What you know won’t hurt you!
Ismael Diaz Yubero, thrice winner of the Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) and author of several books on Spanish gastronomy including the recent Gastronomía del Cerdo Ibérico is enjoining Spain to take pride in the Iberian pork which is at its finest when obtained from the cerdo ibérico de montanera, acorn-fed autochthonous free-range Iberian pig.
Actually the Spaniards are already more than half-convinced that the cerdo ibérico deserves to be on gourmet plates especially since Andoni Luis Aduriz, “masterchef “ of gastronomical innovation (Aduriz taught a complete MasterClass on the public television TVE’s “MasterChef” show) elevated it to haute cuisine in 2006. In fact these past 30 years Spain assumes that the the finest ham in the world is found in their southern and southwestern dehesas (forested pastures).
Díaz Yubero claims that the ibérico ham could well be Spain’s answer to the French foie gras and the Russian caviar.
There’s no doubt that the ham obtained from the cerdo ibérico de montanera, called jamón ibérico de bellota or pata negra (black hoof), is complex and extraordinary tastewise. Exercise in pasture and a diet of bellota (acorn), not to say the state of happiness that engulfs the pig who just adores bellotas, are said to have a significant impact on the exquisite, multi-nuanced flavor of this pampered ibérico. Unfortunately the supply of acorn is finite.
Díaz Yubero says that Spain can’t rear more than 350,000 cerdos ibéricos de montanera annually because the amount of locally available acorn can only feed as many. And yet today there are up to eight million patas negras on the market.
This calls for discernment when one goes gourmet-shopping unless one doesn’t mind so much ending up with any which jamón ibérico in one’s shopping cart. As Díaz Yubero says, these days some “ patas negras” come from ibérico pigs that have been fraudulently cross-bred by unscrupulous farmers with more precocious Spanish breeds, what passes for some “ bellota” is really more commercial feed than acorn, and the curing time of the ham is shortened.
Actually, according to the Spanish rules of the Denomination of Origin, the jamón ibérico may contain an element of cross-breeding as long as 75% of it is from the black Iberian pig.
The jamón ibérico de bellota, as said the ultimate in Spanish hams, comes from the cerdo ibérico de montanera which feeds on acorn during the three to four months it is released onto the dehesa for fattening before being slaughtered. This is the period of the montanera.
It usually takes 36 months to cure the jamón ibérico de bellota but the period could last as long as 48 months.
But there is the second-class jamón ibérico de recebo which is produced from the Iberian pig that is fed with a combination of acorn and grain before slaughter.
Finally there’s the third-rate jamón ibérico de cebo which comes from an Iberian pig that has been fed with grain only and takes just 24 months to cure.
After this crash course in the Spanish ham, who’s afraid of the jamón ibérico? What you know won’t hurt you! The jamón de bellota is one of the most expensive hams in the world. Go splurge if you feel like it but wouldn’t it make you feel better to know you’re getting your money’s worth in the process?
In Spain, during the Christmas season, there’s a great upsurge of demand for the luxury jamón de bellota. Beware of fraud and enjoy the genuine article!
The delicate art of slicing pata negra:
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