All you ever wanted to know about Iberian Ham

Monday 17 December 2018

I was recently contacted by IBEHAM Project and asked if I would like to learn more about  and try some Iberian Ham and then share my experience with my readers.  I am always keen to try new things so I said yes of course!  Our Spanish daughter Ariana was very excited when I told her.  (Being Spanish, she knows just how good it is first hand!)  I was sent two varieties.  Jamon Bellota Iberico and Jamon Vebo de Campo 

The Jamon comes from The Iberian Breed of pig, PDO certified pigs with dark skin, a fine snout and long, slender hind legs. Reared in freedom, the pigs roam the meadows in search of acorns and grazing, building their muscles and facilitating the permeation of fat into their flesh. 

The Meadows:

The meadows are distributed throughout the main native regions that are dedicated to rearing Iberican pigs, (namely Castille and Leon, Extremadura, Castile-La Mancha and Andalusia,) which consistently allows them to select the finest specimens that have enjoyed the acorn feeding season.

The Acorns:

During the acorn-feeding season, holm oaks and cork oaks nourish the pigs with acorns which provide nutrients and healthy fats - mainly oleic acid - which gives their meat that uniquely characteristic taste.  

The hams go through quite an elaborate process  and lengthy curing period before they make it to the plate. 

Reading this I came to fully understand the intense process and the provenance of a quality ingredient. My grandfather used to cure his own hams.  I can remember them hanging from the rafters of his shed.  How he would have loved to learn more about the Spanish process.

Knowing all of its parts, textures and flavours enables us to make the most out of Iberian ham.  It needs to be cut into thin slices with a narrow, long and sharp blade.  The cutting temperature is essential.  Never below 24 degrees Celcius. It is cut in a smooth movement, without exerting undue pressure, which results in deep intense, red toned, perfect slices of ham.  Well balanced in fat, almost transparent, and of the right size, which melts in the mouth. 

When buying Iberician Ham check for the Quality Guarantee. (Seal, label and stamp)  The PDO Guijeulo seals and labels guarantee the traceability of an Iberian pork product from animals that are raised, fed, processed and cured under the most stringent quality controls. Meeting those standards is an essential requirement before the product can be sold. 

I received both a red label and a green label sample with the red being 75% Iberian, and the green being 75 - 100% Iberian, the red being acorn fed and the green being natural range feed. 

The green was much darker in colour. It was delicious.  The fat melted in the mouth and I could taste nuts. It was not over-poweringly salty. 

The red was lighter in colour, but also quite delicious.  Again, the fat melted in the mouth and it had a wonderfully unique taste, not being quite as strong flavoured as the green.

In short, I really enjoyed both.  Very unique in comparison the hams that we are used to seeing here in the UK, this is truly a premium product. I would say excellent.

It is no surprise that Iberian ham is part of the Mediterranean diet, considered Heritage of Mankind by UNESCO.  Thanks to the exceptional breeding and feeding conditions of their Iberian pigs, the meat is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, containing a high content in quality proteins, potassium, zinc and vitamins B1, B3 and B12, which contribute to a normal energy metabolism. It is equally a source  of phosphorus, selenium, iron and vitamins B2 and B6, which contribute to the right functioning of the immune system.  Iberian ham is undoubtedly a good source of energy which, along with a balanced diet and regular exercise, is recommended by Doctors and Nutritionists for its health benefits. 

The European stamp of Distinguished Quality marks Iberian jam out and confers a distinction of excellence with respect to other Iberian products, sharing a series of values and attributes that differentiate and protect them from lower-quality imitations.

-Deep rooted in the environment and the ecosystem, with its people, their values, the unique climate and its meadows.

- 100% natural product, carefully produced, free from preservatives and artificial additives.

- Traditional production methods, taking great care of the product and giving it the optimum curing time in each case. The secret of natural curing passed down from generation to generation.

-Quality Control systems guaranteed by law and performed by independent inspectors, to which the much stricter ones of the DOP are added to bring an extra guarantee of quality and authenticity.

PDO GUIJUELO Brand of Excellence products are certified under the seal of approval, Protected Designation of Origin always comes with a guarantee of traceability, origin, natural feeding and traditional elaboration processes, as well as the excellence of the end product.

The PDO Guijuelo is made up of family businesses, many of whom are third and fourth generation producers, that are engaged in producing a unique product that meets the most demanding quality standards.

I am so pleased that I was afforded the opportunity to try these fine  hams first hand.  I have often seen hams such as this in the shops around the Christmas period but have never known anything about them, what they taste like, or how to cut and use them. In short, I knew nothing about them at all, so  I admit that I have always kind of shied away from purchasing them.  Having tasted them, I can now say with authority that they are very delicious, and I would buy them, especially knowing now exactly what to look for.  These were a real treat.  Thanks very much to the Ibeham project for having given me this chance.

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