Jamón Ibérico Buying Guide
Firstly a Jamon is not just for Christmas! There’s never a bad time to eat good Jamon Iberico.
The budget discounters made a splash last year by selling a Leg of Serrano Ham for £39.99 or £5.71 a kilo. To be fair that is a tempting price for a leg of Spanish ham.
But, and it’s a big but, not all Spanish Jamons are created equally. Jamon Iberico is more expensive than Jamon Serrano and it is more expensive for a reason.
Whilst you can certainly buy cheaper quality hams, we think, as a discerning consumer you can taste the difference. Here are some top tips if you are looking to buy a Leg of Spanish Ham in 2016.
First of all, you should look at the diet of the pig. Quality producers go to great lengths of feed the pigs quality food and, in particular, acorns.
There are four main categories of Jamon Iberico:
Black Label – Jamon 100% Iberico de Bellota (pata negra)
- This is the top category made with 100% pedigree Iberian pigs
- 100% acorn fed
- Free range, the pigs are allowed to roam around the Dehesa
- 1.25 pigs / hectare
- Must be at least 14 months before slaughter
- The ham is cured for at least 24-36 months +
Red Label – Jamon Iberico de Bellota
- The breed is typically at least 75% Iberian breed
- Acorn and grass fed
- Free range
- 1.25 pigs / hectare
- Age at slaughter at least 12 months
- Cured for at least 24 – 30 months
- Green Label – Jamon Iberico de Cebo de Campo
- This pig is at least 50% Iberian breed
- Allowed to roam freely outdoors
- Fed a compound of acorn, grains and grass.
- 15 pigs/ hectare
- Age at slaughter 12 months
White Label – Jamon Iberico de Cebo
- This pig is generally 50% Iberian
- Reared in enclosed pens
- Fed a compound of cereals and grass.
- Age at slaughter – 10 months
If you can’t find out whether the pigs have been fed acorns or not, that’s probably because they don’t highlight it because it will be inferior. Quality producers will shout from the roof-tops about their Iberian pigs.
The Husbandry of the animal is important too. There are no commercially reared pigs at the top of the Iberian tree. The final three months of a pigs life are spent out in the Dehesa during what’s known as the montanera. This is important as it allows the pig to have a stress-free life and this ultimately affects the quality of the meat.
Next to watch out for is the colour of the meat. The pigs that are aged for the least amount of time produce meat that has a lighter pinkish colour. A deeper, almost ruby, red colour is rendered on pigs aged for a longer period.
The quality of the pigs will be reflected in the taste as well. The taste is very different with the acorn richness of the jamón ibérico de bellota lingering on the palate like a fine wine.
One final point, Jamon Serrano is not the same as Jamon Iberico. Serrano ham traditionally comes from white pigs and has a less intense flavour and the meat is not as dark in colour. You won’t find a top quality aged Jamon Serrano Reserva for £39.99 either!