What do you know about Iberian ham?

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Legend has it that many years ago, ham was born because a pig drowned after falling into a stream that had large amounts of salt. Some shepherds picked it up and decided to roast it and discovered the exquisite flavor of its front and hind legs that were marinated in salt. So every time they slaughtered a pig, they dipped its feet in salt.

However, it should be clarified that ham has been known since the Roman Empire when it was necessary to preserve the meat so that it would last throughout the year. The process consisted of salting the piece and curing it in order to better protect the condition of the meat. It was this need that led to the development of ham production techniques. But it should be noted that ham had great prestige in the Iberian Peninsula since before the Romans, as it was synonymous with nobility and wealth and on many occasions was used for bartering.

Thus, with the passage of time, ham has become a delicacy that has given way to the ham industry. Large companies have dedicated themselves to the curing of farm pigs, which involves a much shorter period, and this type of product is what we can find in supermarkets or neighborhood stores at a very affordable price.

On the other hand, small ham companies produce ham in a more artisanal way. These companies obtain their raw material from pigs that are raised in the dehesas with a more natural diet. They are usually fed on acorns and their lifestyle is closely followed by their breeders. They are a type of hams that need much more care than normal hams, since their curing time is longer, obtaining a higher quality product, likewise its price varies but its quality and flavor increase. 

With the passage of time, acorn-fed ham has come to be recognized for its splendid flavor, reaching other countries as a unique and differentiating food of Spanish gastronomy.

Iberian ham comes from the Iberian breed of pig, a unique breed in the world. This breed of pigs is raised in the Iberian Peninsula, in the Dehesas of the Southwest. They are pigs that live in freedom in their own ecosystem, the Spanish "Dehesa": a forest composed of holm oaks and cork oaks. This freedom allows them to go from one place to another, making a great physical effort, which causes the fat that is formed to infiltrate into the meat of the hams, thus obtaining a juicier ham with an exquisite aroma and flavor. They have the capacity to accumulate fat under the skin and infiltrate it under the muscles, a capacity that gives them that characteristic white streak, typical of this type of ham.

Without crossbreeding with other breeds, these pigs have been fattened in the open range, for which they have needed some five to six hundred kilos of acorns, which have made them gain about fifty to sixty kilos, which has taken place in a period between October and March.

To recognize each type of Jamón Ibérico, it is enough to pay a little attention to the labels on the packaging, both on the ham legs and on the cuts and charcuterie products. The use of labels that define each one has been standardized:

The white seal is for Iberian cebo pieces; green for Iberian cebo de campo; red for Iberian bellota and black for 100% Iberian bellota. Curing time is from 8 to 36 months.

Quality certificates: although this information can be found on the label, certain Iberian hams may have other quality certificates depending on the protected designations of origin (PDO).