We flew to Seville and were met by a friendly chap called Miguel Ullibari, he is responsible for overseeing all the PR concerning Iberico pigs for the many companies that produce this beautiful ham.
We drove north from Seville through a semi industrial area then on into the national park of Arratheyna in the western Andalucia countryside, it was beautiful After about an hour the terrain became more rocky and mountainous and the trees became spaced out and very well kept. We finally arrive at the sleepy town of Arecena, almost the whole town is geared to Iberico ham production, I have never been anywhere like it.
Miguel explained that the pigs roam free and need to be feed on natural grasses, wild herbs, seeds and acorns. The sheer scale of the Iberico pig-producing region is breathtaking. He also explained that the area is the size of Holland!
The pigs are reared to a strict code of practice, no more than 15 pigs per hectare is allowed, or there is not enough food for the pig to grow to its full potential. The pigs have always been in the region and are treated like royalty.
Amazingly, an Iberico black pig will put on a third of its entire weight once the acorns (bellottas) start to fall, that's in about 3 months. They are very fussy only eating the brown ripe acorns, the green ones they leave, even then removing the outside husk, eating the juicy acorn centre, and spitting out the rest. They live a very happy and contented life up to a bout 1 year old.
Once the pigs have been slaughtered the hams and shoulders are salted very briefly with sea salt, this is to keep the sweetness in the meat, a vital part of Jamon Iberico. I tried to find out for how long, but they would not tell me.
Facts about Ham
- Traditionally the pigs were slaughtered in the cold of winter and the process ended with hot summer temperatures.
- The origins of this entire process was to always have food in the home in times of hardship.
- These hams are cured by carefully trimming fat off them then salting the skin. The salt draws the moisture out (left in the salt for one day per kilo of meat).
- Iberico ham is high in monounsaturated fats similar to olive oil, as much as 60% (not the harmful, artery clogging stuff).
- Then the other essential ingredient is time, the more the better and at least one and a half years for proper Jamon Iberico.
The curing houses have many windows, which are open most of the time to keep the air circulating around the hams. It's a constant battle to keep the atmosphere correct. The hams can spoil if there is too much moisture in the air, too dry, not dry enough, too much rain, not enough ventilation. The whole drying process is managed by human experience and years of knowledge, its amazing. This is where the fungal process begins, penicilium Roquefortis helps stabilise the fat giving the ham time to mature and build a wonderful aroma.
Some hams are ready to be eaten in 18 months but they can take up to 5 years, all the time the acorn oil is spreading throughout the ham giving it a wonderful aroma.
In the factory we filmed in there is an amazing 50,000 hams and shoulders all sold just waiting for the right moment, it was breathtaking. A small horse or cow bone skewer called a Cala is inserted is used to tell if the ham is ready. Incisions are made by experts in three parts of the ham to check the right degree of flavour and aroma. Once ready the ham is then branded with The Real Iberico seal and numbered, carefully wrapped and sold. Some legs can cost as much as £500; the ham is carved into small slices and eaten on special occasions, such as Christmas and birthdays.
General Yague, 12-2 1
Tel 00 34 915 560 110
For more information contact www.realiberico.com