Jamon Iberico or "Pata Negra"
Spanish Tapas Ingredients
Jamon Iberico or Iberian Ham is the salted and cured ham of the black Iberian pig. This exclusive delicacy is eaten in thin slices as a tapa, often on a piece of crispy long bread. The Iberico Ham is also referred to as "Pata Negra", meaning "black foot" or "black hoof".
Spanish Iberico Hams or Pata Negra
General Classification of Spanish Hams
In Spain they classify their hams according to the breed of the pig, to pre-slaughter diet, to preparation method, and to region.
The two main breeds of pigs in Spain are the regular white pig and the black Iberico pig. Within each of these two main breeds there are several different sub-races, each with its own specifics, just like there are different kind of terriers.
The difference between Serrano Ham and Iberico Ham is that Serrano Ham comes from the regular white pig, while - by law - a ham may only be called Iberian Ham if it comes from an at least 75% pure bred Iberian black pig.
A few translations to note:
Jamon:  Ham (from the hind leg);
Jamon Iberico:  Iberico ham, "Pata Negra";
Lomo de Cerdo:  Pork loin;
Lomo Iberico:  Loin of the Iberico pig;
Paleta Iberica:  Shoulder ham of the Iberico pig;
The Dehesa - Natural Home of the Iberian Pig
The Dehesa is the wooded pastureland that is typical for the south western regions of Spain and the southern part of Portugal. It is a rather dry ecosystem consisting of hilly terrain studded with trees and grazed by cattle and pigs. The trees are mainly oak, in a few varieties including holm oak and cork oak.
The Iberico pigs from the Dehesa are on a diet of grass and herbs, and acorns in fall!
It is these oak trees that link the black Spanish pig to the Dehesa. Pigs love acorns, and almost every fall there are plenty of acorns for the pigs to feast on. Every year the Iberico pigs fatten themselves, and this diet of acorns causes a very high content of non-saturated fats in the Iberico meat.
Iberian Ham - 3 Steps to Excellence
The excellence represented by the exclusive and highly exquisite Iberico ham, is achieved in three essential steps:
Step 1 - The Pig
The black Iberico pig provides very good meat. This race has roamed freely in Spain since pre-history. It is able to store fat in its muscles, providing for finely marbled and very tender meat.
Step 2 - Rearing Conditions
While the black Iberian pig by nature already provides very good meat, it is the Dehasa that provides the right food and excersize to raise the quality of the Iberico meat to the highest possible level.
Step 3 - Curing Method
The final step to excellence is provided by the mastership of the Spanish Ham specialists who have learned through the ages exactly how to salten, dry and cure the Iberico meat to get the best possible product on your plate.
Classes and Quality of Iberico Ham
Iberico Ham is produced in the south western parts of Spain, from at least 75% pure bred black Spanish pigs that mostly roam freely in the Dehesa, and comes in 3 qualities or classes, depending on the pre-slaughter diet:
'Jamon Iberico de Bellota' or 'Jamon Iberico de Montanera'
"Bellota" means acorn. Throughout the year these black Spanish pigs roam freely in the Dehesa, the Spanish oak groves, feeding on grass, roots and acorns. In a year with good plant growing conditions, these free roaming pigs typically need about 1 hectare per pig in order to get plenty of food to fatten the pig. During their last fall they have eaten lots of acorns. These are mostly 100% Iberico pigs and they produce the finest quality hams which are typically cured for 36 months.
'Jamon Iberico de Recebo' or 'Jamon Iberico de Medio Montanera'
These free roaming pigs are at least 75% pure bred Iberico black pig and are typically held at 10 pigs per hectare, whereby a shortage of natural food like grass, roots and acorns is compensated by commercial fodder like cereals (wheat, corn, barley) and vegetables. Especially during their last fall - before slaughtering - they will be fed acorns only.
'Jamon Iberico de Cebo' or simply 'Jamon Iberico'
"Cebo" means feed, fodder. These pigs are at least 75% pure bred black Iberico pig and have been fed only cereals (wheat, corn, barley) and vegetables. These Iberico hams have typically cured for 12 to 24 months. While this may be the lowest quality of Iberico hams, make no mistake: this is still a highly exquisite product.
Pata Negra Tapas Suggestion:
Regional Apellations of Iberico Ham
The Iberico Ham is produced in the south western provinces of Salamanca, Cáceres, Badajoz, Huelva, Cordoba, Sevilla, Malaga and Cadiz, and has a few regional apellations or designations of origin ("Denominacion de Origen" or D.O.) which are protected by Spanish and EU law, such as:
- D.O. Guijuelo (Guijuelo and Bejar - Salamanca);
- D.O. Jabugo (Jabugo, Huelva - Andalusia);
- D.O. Jamon de Huelva (Huelva - Andalusia);
- D.O. Los Pedroches (Cordoba - Andalusia);
- D.O. Dehesa de Extremadura (Cáceres and Badajoz - Extramadura);