Iberian Ham Guide by Paul Chiara

When it comes to traditions in Gibraltar, and one that we share with our neighbours across the border, I would say 80% Gibraltarians have, especially during the festive season, “una buena pata de jamon!” And we do like our Jamon, its’ exquisite aroma, cherishing its beautiful marbling, savouring the taste whilst letting it gently melt on your tongue… (you should wipe that drool off your mouth now) What an experience and what a pleasure!! Difficult to avoid in our now daily local cuisine, it is used in a lot of the bars and restaurants by the plate or added to other dishes, but we still want our own, at home, where no body else is allowed to cut it but yourself.
The best way to discover and enjoy all of its unique and highly appreciated features, is to simply eat it freshly cut without any extras, paired with a good wine, of course. But how do we choose the right one?
We are convinced by merchants that one company’s leg of ham is better than the other, as in wine, it’s all a question of taste. But how can we tell? in most part it’s the trust you have with the merchant. Since 2014 they have made it easier for us, but before I go into the labelling system, let’s start with the basics on the pig itself;
The IBERIAN BREED
The breed comes from the “ibérico” (Iberian) pork. It’s a black pig that is a mix between wild boar and the pigs the Phoenicians brought to the peninsula thousands of years ago. Nevertheless, concerning the ham, the percentage of this breed can vary: so you can find 100% Iberian hams (both parents were Iberian; pure-bred), but as well 75% or 50% when they are crossed with other pigs.
IBERIAN PIG DIET
The diet can be divided into three groups:
• Bellota (100% acorn fed)
• Cebo de Campo (some acorns, resources of the pasture, grain and feed)
• Cebo (only commercial feed).
The bellota ham is of the highest quality, since the pigs roam in pasture and oak groves (dehesas) to feed naturally on acorns, grass, herbs and aromatic plants, until the slaughtering time approaches, at that point, the diet may be strictly limited to acorns, the pig’s delicacy par excellence and key to its flavour, healthy and natural food for the pig, which adds sweetness to its meat; and the exercise of looking for those acorns, moving around the dehesa, creating like this it’s beautiful marbling you see when cut.
Pata Negra is another name given in Spain to the ham that is 100% bellota. There is a common misconception that the term Pata Negra is given to all ham with a black hoof but as of 2014 the term can only be given to the 100% Bellota pure breed hams. All legs whether they be bellota or even the cebo range should have a curation period of about 14-18 months depending on the house it comes from. The better-quality houses like Bejer, Castro & Gonzalez, Montesiera and other top names can leave to cure their hams for more than 36 months, these are much darker, richer and almost linger on your palate afterwards.
But apart from its incredible taste, we haven’t told you yet the best news: the Iberian ham is actually good for your health! It is rich in proteins, calcium and phosphorus, containing as well Vitamin B1 and B2 and iron, above all, the acorn fed pigs have a higher proportion of monounsaturated fatty acids which actually help to reduce cholesterol!
To make it easier for you to know what you are getting, here’s the coloured labelling system I mentioned earlier:
Black label 100% Jamon Iberico Bellota Pure Breed

Red label 100% Jamon Iberico Bellota Free Range Breed

Green label Jamon Iberico Cebo de Campo

White label Jamon Iberico de Cebo

There is just left to say that depending on the quality, breed, house and most importantly your taste, there is only one way to know which leg of ham is right for you and that is going out and tasting various different styles. Just because it is a 100% bellota black label doesn’t mean that you are going to like it, you might prefer a softer taste to your ham, either way it is a very special product, behind which stand many families, lots of time, care and hard work – from raising the pigs in liberty, letting them live and eat as natural as possible, to the person who finally cuts the finished product with lots of love and dedication.
I’m sure Tony at The Wine Shop will be more than happy to help you choose the perfect wine to have with your ham, but however you choose to enjoy it, take your time, celebrate it, It’s definitely worth it.

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