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Jamon Iberico de Bellota
The favorite food of the Spanish is jamon iberico de bellota (acorn fed Iberian ham). It has a rich savory taste (some say it is the food of the gods) and the most expensive type of ham that can be found in Spain. The Spanish always serve this during holidays and celebrations. The Iberian pig is a type of dark pig that has its origins in Spain. Its hooves are most of the time black. That is why it is also called "pata negra" (black hoof). Many restaurants and delicatessens sell legs of ham and these can be found hanging from the ceiling. The hams with the black hooves are from the Iberian pigs. The more common pig in Spain is colored white, and gives the product called jamon serrano, serrano meaning that it was cured in the mountains and air dried.
Jamon iberico is good for one's health. It does not have many calories and it is rich in monounsaturated acids that reduce cholesterol. The fat is rich in oleic acid and eating the ham raises one's HDL and lowers one's LDL. Many medical studies in Spain have proved that eating this product reduces cholesterol. The ham also has many proteins, is light and easily digestible. One hundred grams contain 250 calories. The secret is that the Iberian pigs are raised in fields with oak trees, and they eat the acorns. The acorns are responsible for the high monounsaturated acids. They also eat aromatic herbs like thyme and rosemary, as well as roots. The pigs live in oak forests free- range, in areas without any contamination. This is called “la dehesa”. The ham may have a color ranging from rosy to purplish red. The fat is white with pinkish or yellowish tinges, and with a glossy color.
The places which are famous for raising these pigs are the provinces of Huelva (town of Jabugo) and Extremadura. Aracena in the Sierra de Huelva is a very picturesque little town that is a favorite place to buy the hams in Huelva, and one can tour the ham factory there. Other places are Guijuelo in Salamanca and Los Pedroches in Cordoba. The pigs are very valuable and have guardians with them to prevent theft. When the pigs are slaughtered, they are brought to the cold mountains, rubbed with marine salt and allowed to remain in the salt from one week to ten days, depending on the weight. The salt is then washed off. They are then hung from the ceiling to air dry and to give time for the ham to dehydrate. The place where the hams are dried control the temperature and humidity. This period may be one year and a half to two years. The longer it is air dried, the more expensive it will cost, up to a point. Thirty months is the longest time a ham can be air dried. The hams have their own denomination of origin that is given by the government to certify the hams before sale. The producers of these hams have many years of experience, enough to assure the highest quality. The consumers are very demanding and many are connoisseurs of ham, and many can tell where a ham comes from, just by tasting it.
One can buy slices of these hams from supermarkets and delis, as well as many restaurants. A convenient place to buy ham slices is the El Corte Ingles Supermarket. One can tell the attendant how much (by weight) one wants. The most expensive ham is called Joselito and it costs 15.90 euros for 100 grams. The least expensive acorn fed Iberian ham costs 9.90 euros for 100 grams. Other supermarkets may have lower prices. However the Spanish prefer to have an attendant slice the ham paper thin, rather than buy prepared sliced ham in packages.
One can accompany the ham with thin slices of French bread or small toasted bread squares that are sold in supermarkets in cartons. One usually eats the ham with some cheese also. In Andalusia, people enjoy eating the ham while drinking cold dry sherry.
Many four and five star hotels serve the jamon iberico for their breakfast buffets. Most tourists avoid the ham because they do not know what it is. The Spanish head for the ham when they see it. If one does not recognize the ham, ask the waiter if there is any jamon iberico, and if there is, ask him to point to it. If one visits Spain, the journey is not complete without trying the jamon iberico.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved in 2005 the first slaughterhouse in Spain, Embutidos y Jamones Fermin, to produce jamon iberico for export to the U.S. Currently there are campaigns in China and other places to sell the ham. Many Spanish are afraid that if other countries develop a taste for this ham, that the Spanish market may develop a shortage of this ham and deprive them of the hams.