What Makes Iberian Ham So Unique?
Dry, cured hams have been produced throughout southern Europe for centuries. Spain, Italy, Portugal and France have highly valued hams, employing a variety of pig breeds and curing methods. Novus recently invited a group of Italian customers to Southwest Spain to visit the The Zafra International Livestock Fair, an Iberian free-range farm and an Iberian ham drying factory.
At Sánchez Romero Carvajal, one of the most exclusive Iberian ham producers located in Andalusia, the group covered traditional rearing practices. There, pure Iberian breed pigs grow freely and are fed natural, exclusive oak acorns during “Montanera” period in autumn. Italian customers appreciated the exchange and discussions with Dr. Antonio Muñoz, professor of Animal Production at the University of Murcia. In comparison with other European porcine breeds, the Iberian pig presents some important singularities. One of them is its adaptation to the strong oscillations of feeding and climate of the Southwest Iberian Peninsula. This adaptive mechanism explains the abundance of subcutaneous and intramuscular, fat and therefore the quality of its final product.
To better understand the ‘Pata Negra’ excellence, the group visited the Zafra International Livestock Fair in Extremadura which is one of the most important in the industry. Finally, at Dehesa de Guijuelo, a factory specialized in the production of cured hams withstanding 800,000 pieces on drying process, the Italian group learned more on the processing methods.
Iberian hams are first salted and let dry for several days. The salt is then washed off and the ham is left to rest and dry a couple of weeks, after which they can spend up to 24 months hanging in the “secaderos” and “bodegas”.
Is the Iberian the world’s finest ham? Probably yes. But it is more than this. According to Dr. Roberto Barea, Technical Service Manager at Novus, “The Iberian pig production is not only the source of the most prestigious and valued pig meat products*, but also it contributes to the economic maintenance of local operations in the Southwest Iberian Peninsula that constitute an interesting ecological model of interaction among woodland, grassland and livestock and an important reserve for wild fauna and flora”.
* More than 30% of the total value of the production of the pig meat Spanish industry