Let’s Ham It Up
Chef Kit here with the third entry in my culinary travel log. Iberico ham (or Jamon Iberico) was everywhere I went in Spain. If you’re not familiar with this exquisite and uniquely Spanish tradition, let me give an overview. It all starts with the animals. Iberico hogs aren’t the pretty pink variety we think of in America. These are big, black hogs with a higher percentage of fat. That fat allows the ham to be cured much longer to achieve a more complex and intense flavor with a hint of sweetness that I personally couldn’t get enough of.
Not All Hogs Are Created Equal
While every Iberico hog may dream of roaming free in the Spanish countryside, not all are destined to become the ultimate ham—Jamon Iberico de Bellota. Those that are chosen to be the best will dine on acorns (or bellota) and become ham that costs twice as much as other Jamon Iberico. They’re free range and spend their days foraging for acorns, herbs, and grasses in the oak forests along the border between Spain and Portugal. This exercise and feasting result in superior marbling and flavor in the meat.
Making the Grade
The hams are labeled according to the pigs' diet and Iberian ancestry. Jamon Iberico de Bellota (also called Jamon Iberico de Montanera) is the best and it’s what I had the privilege of eating the most of on the trip. It’s cured for 36 months and comes with black labels indicating 100% acorn-fed, purebred Iberian free-range hogs or red labels indicating the same except the hogs aren’t purebred. The remaining Iberico hams are made from pastured hogs and fed acorns with grain or just grain. Even without the acorns, these hams are still delicious, benefitting from some percentage of Iberian ancestry and the extended curing process. You can’t go wrong!
Check back soon for my next travel log “Taste of the Trip 4: Culinary Trends” for highlights of the ingredients, flavor combinations and techniques I saw trending in Spain.
- Taste of the Trip 5: Chef Kit’s Tour Tips
- Taste of the Trip 3: Iberico Ham
- Taste of the Trip 2: Pintxo Bars
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