From the importance of the breed of pig, the essential role of how it’s fed, to an appropriate curing phase. We will tell you all you need to know to choose an authentic Iberian ham.
If you love bread, you surely understand the differences in flavours and textures, the differences between a traditional loaf, a ciabatta, a brioche, a whole grain loaf or the popular seed-coated buns. All of these are types of bread, obviously, but don’t have the same properties. We could say the same happens with ham. Everything may be ham, but the differences between hams are incredibly important. How can one choose among such a broad offer and such an extensive price range? This is exactly what we want to help you do. You should consider three aspects: first of all the breed of the pigs, the way they are fed, and the curing process.
Iberian pigs are, without a doubt, the most appreciated breed. This is why it is alluded to even to sell fish soup, it’s a joke, but just give them time. Either if they are pure-bred or a result of cross-breeding, Iberian pigs don’t have that pink skin that always comes to mind, their skin is much darker, sometimes blond or even spotted. Their build is strong, which contrasts with their slimmer limbs. Is that all? Is picking an Iberian pig enough to enjoy the best ham? Sorry, but it’s not enough. Here is where the feeding and curing processes have an important role.
We all know the popular phrase “we are what we eat”, many of today's chefs use this expression to encourage us to have a healthy diet, picking a good diet is essential for our body to reach its maximum potential. And, in the case of Iberian ham, so it can have its characteristic dappling, which is a result of the optimal muscle-fat proportions, and the nuances found in its coveted flavour. Many hams in the market come from animals that have been fed in farms using feed and cereal, which is what we call cebo and recebo in Spanish. Although these are cheaper, the flavour and beneficial health qualities aren't the same as those from animals that have had the chance to graze freely.
In our case, we take pride in the fact that our pigs eat freely outdoors in the open plains from autumn until February, which is when the acorns fall from the tree and these wonderful walkers can graze freely. Their environment is surrounded by different oak varieties: holm oaks, cork oaks, traditional oaks, Portuguese oaks, where our pigs can feed on roots, pasture and up to a tonne in acorns. Acorns don’t only help them grow, they also provide their meat that unmistakable flavour and the appearance we mentioned.
The curing process is key to the good quality of the ham. Our pigs are slaughtered once a year, during the months of February and March, when the amount of acorns drops. Once this is done, hams are salted and left to spend the summer in the drying facilities. As we mentioned above, drying and curing of pieces is essential to obtain hams of the best quality, therefore one cannot spare time or efforts when developing these processes. We must be sure that the curing isn't done in industrial facilities, but using traditional methods in artisan elaboration.
As for our hams, the salting process is done manually, piece by piece, allowing them to rest for several days -1 day per kilo- before leaving them to dry. There, in the drying facilities, they benefit from the properties of the weather in the area, where the hams will spend an average of 6 months. Once this time has been completed, before the end of the summer and the upcoming colder months, they continue to become refined in a natural curing process for no less than 2 years, in the case of shoulder hams, and 3 or more years in the case of hams. Once this period has ended, the Master Ham Curer will insert a thin and sharp punch, made of cow bone, and will pick the best pieces, one by one, so we can enjoy a wonderful ham. This is how we can be sure that we will eat an acorn-fed Iberian ham with an unparalleled flavour.
Why does acorn-fed Iberian ham, either ham or shoulder ham, have such a pleasant flavour in addition to being healthier than any other? Because thanks to these acorns, Iberian ham can boast having oleic acids similar to olive oil, in addition to proteins, vitamin B, iron, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, and magnesium. It also has very few calories. Not only does it not produce cholesterol, it also activates the production of HDL, known as the good cholesterol.