Southwestern Spain is known for a special black breed of pigs and Spain would be devastated without their plates of Pata Negra or Jabugo. This is the closest thing to a religion. No Sunday table or aperitif time would be without having a small plates of paper thin slices of dark scarlet jamón. Spain produces some 40 million hams per year! Thus jamón is ingrained in that gastronomic culture.
There are basically only two different types of cured hams: Jamón Serrano, translated as “ham from the Sierra or mountains” which are from the Landrace breed of pig which is white hoofed and Jamón Ibérico from pigs found free ranging on prairie-like land known as the Dehesa. Black Iberian pigs have long floppy ears, long snouts, dark hair, and have black hooves. They are basically a semi-wild pig, closely related to wild boars. They feed in the wild thus, get lots of exercise, which causes the fat to be marbled into the meat and keeps them from getting as fat as other pigs. They are omnivores so they eat plants and animals, truthfully, pigs will eat almost anything but out in these meadows they “pig out” massively on herbs, acorns, and chestnuts.
The Iberian pig, whose origins can probably be traced back to the Neolithic, when animal domestication started, is currently found in herds clustered in the south western part of Spain. The difference between Serrano Jamón and Iberico Jamón can be said is that their lifestyle is in measurements; Serrano pigs’ home life is measured in meters and Iberico is measured by 2 to 3 hectares for grazing each pig. They are completely different products with the same name - in flavor, aroma, texture and fat infiltration.
Pork products made from the Black Iberian breed has its own denomination. According to Spain’s DOC rules Jamón Iberico must be from pure breed or cross-bred as long as at least 50% Black Iberian is in their ancestry. These pork products have an intensity of flavor and are in abundance. After the slaughter every last bit of the pig is used for chorizo, salchichón and morcilla sausages plus choice cuts can be cooked and eaten fresh like Lomo, chuletas, cheeks, and Solomillo. But it’s those legs that are packed in sea salt and hung to dry in the cool winter air for at least 20 months for curing.
This nutty, rich iconic jamón has been part of the Spanish diet for again thousands of years. The total proportion of unsaturated oleic acids in cured Pata Negra jamón is over 75%, making it the most cardio healthy of all animal fats. In addition to its beneficial effect on cholesterol, Iberico jamón provides proteins, vitamins B1, B6, B12 and folic acid, all highly beneficial for the nervous system and proper functioning of the brain. It is also rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, and in minerals and finally, selenium, which has been attributed with anti-Aging properties. If this doesn’t make you run out and buy some, I don’t know what will ….remember look for that Black hoof!
If you are an aficionado you will have your own leg, which means that you need all the accessories. The most important is that you know the art of carving, you do NOT cut jamón – you carve homogenous translucent thin strips from hock to tip. Besides years of practice, you must have the proper Spanish style slicer, normally a well-balanced flexible 12 inch blade forged by Martinez & Gascon, Arcos 171000, or Dalstrong’s Gladiator. Now keep it sharp and ready to carve!