Allain Ducasse, one of the most celebrated and respected French chefs today, said of Iberico ham: “This ham is truly one of the world’s gastronomic jewels”. He serves Iberico ham from Spain in all his restaurants. Most French chefs believe that food originating on their homeland is superior to anything grown or caught outside it. The fact that a world famous French chef is using Spanish ham because of its superior appearance, taste and texture is rare. Iberico ham’s excellent taste derives from its ascendancy. The Iberian pig still lives in its original habitat, the dehesa, a mixture of forests and meadows in southeastern Spain. Terroir (500 – 1000 metres altitude with soft springs, mild summers, and cols winters) plays a significant role in the flavour of the Iberian pig.
In the vast oak forests spilling into neighboring Portugal, Iberian pigs forage for acorn and wild chestnuts.
The yearlings are taken into forests starting in October, and fed acorns, gars aromatic herbs and tubers, mushrooms, small insects, even snakes. Their skin is dark, legs are long, ears drooping, and long snout, help pigs survive in this environment. They can crack open corn, spit out the shell, and enjoy its content to the tune of five to six kilograms a day.
This diet helps pigs gain weight rapidly, mostly fat, but it consists of 5- – 60 per cent oleic acid, the same unsaturated fat fund in olive oil.
has a smooth texture, appealing shine, bright red colour, and marbled with an intense aroma, finishing with an unusually long aftertaste.
After salting and stabilizing the leg, aging takes place in temperature-controlled warehouses called curing halls.
In the dark “halls” the hams undergo several “seasons” of aging and maturing under the constant supervision of experts. During the aging process, each ham loses 40 per cent of its original weight, which intensifies its taste.
Spanish authorities started to create ham appellations as early as 1986 starting with Jamon de Guijuelo, followed by Jamon de Huelva, and Jamon Dehesa de Extramadura.
The prestige of Iberico acorn ham goes far back into history. As early as the first century A.D., the Greek geographer Strabo extolled the virtues of Iberico ham.
For a Spaniard dining in a fine restaurant, ordering Iberico ham is a natural choice.
They enjoy the ceremonial presentation on a specially designed stand, and expert carving by the maitre d’hotel. It is an expensive delicacy, but it is worth every penny.