Spanish Tapa: Iberian ham
Spain has always been one of the most popular destinations for tourists of all the world due to it mixes of different cultures, it architecture, a huge variety of landscapes, the fantastic weather and the beaches, but one of the most important attractions you can find when you are visiting Spain is, without doubt, the food and the Spanish gastronomy
The Iberian Peninsula has the correct weather, landscapes and perfect conditions to offer us tasty cultivated products (vegetables, fruits and cereals), juicy meat and in addition, Spain is surrounded by water what makes it also rich in fishes as you can find there loads of different variety of them. All of these ingredients are what make the Mediterranean food so succulent and delicious.
But if we think about the most important ambassadors of this Mediterranean food probably we name the olive oil, the Rioja wine and the Iberian ham.
Today I would like to focus on this last product: the Spanish Iberian ham. If you are one of the lucky people that have ever taste the Spanish ham you know what I mean, even the cheapest ham you are able to find in a Spanish market are tastier than the most expensive ham in other countries.
As you know the ham is the back leg of the pig, being the shoulder ham its front leg. But for being certified as Iberian ham it should be cured and produced in Spain or Portugal and only made with black Iberian pigs. This kind of pigs are mostly located in south and western Iberian Peninsula, which includes Spain and Portugal, especially in Andalusia, Extremadura, Castilla and Alentejo (this last one in Portugal).
To get the certification as truly Iberian Ham is needed to have the black pigs living free in pasture lands and woods. Firstly, the pigs are located in a farm with their moms while they are breast-feeding and after that the piglets eat only barley and maize for a few weeks. Then is the time to give them freedom and let the pigs eat grass, acorns and roots in the lands and do some exercise, which is crucial if we want to obtain the best ham. Shortly before their slaughtering they should be only fed by acorns for the most quality ham or, for lower qualities, they can be fed by a mix of acorns and other commercial cereals and food.
After the slaughtering the fresh ham is cured with salt and left for two months in order to be dried. When the ham is dried the salt is removed by washing the piece and again the ham need to be drying for other 4 or 6 months. This process can last a year or even it can continue after two years.
What types of Iberian ham we can find?
Iberiam ham (Bellota)
The feeding of the black pigs is so crucial that it decide the type of ham it is going to be. Also the curing process has a lot to do with the certification of the ham.
The most expensive and prestigious is the Iberian acorn-fed ham
(jamón ibérico de bellota
). The pigs fed in their last time only with acorns are the ham with the higher status. The acorns and the exercise the pigs do in the oak forests (dehesas
) are very important to get that characteristic favour. Also the process of curing lasts for over 36 months. Depending if we are talking about pure-bred black pigs or black pigs that are mixes with other varieties of pigs we can find the black label
Iberian acorn-fed ham or the red label
(being the black one the one for pure-bred Iberian pigs).
Jamón ibérico de cebo
The second type of Iberian ham we can find has the green label
and it is called jamón ibérico de cebo de campo
and it comes from Iberian pigs that are not fed only with acorns, they are feeding mixing acorns with grain.Finally, and with the white label
, we have the last grade of Iberian ham: jamón ibérico de cebo
or jamón ibérico. These pigs have only eaten grain (no acorn) and the ham is cured for a shorter period, 24 months.
Which are the most popular dishes made with Iberian ham?
Assortment of cheeses
If we are visiting Spain we can find Iberian ham served alone, as slices
in a plate, and sometimes accompanied with olive oil
, with manchego cheese
or, as one of the most popular dishes in Spain, as a tapa
. The tapa usually is served with bread, tomato, olive oil and a slice of Iberian ham on the top.
Croquettes, watermelon with ham and huevos rotos
(fried potatoes with eggs and ham) are other popular dishes that use the Spanish Iberian ham as one of their principal ingredients