Raised in pastures along the Iberian peninsula, Iberian pigs produce a product that’s truly unique. Understanding the breed of pig as well as the carefully selected feed is essential to recognising the individual characteristics of different Iberian hams on the market. Whether a pig has been acorn-fed or fodder-fed can make a lasting impact on the overall flavour profiles of the finished ham – and it’s always worth tasting different varieties to discover what suits your palate best.
Iberian hams are separated into one of four categories – Black, Red, Green and White – colour coded by seals of the quality standard. The Black seal refers to ham that is 100% acorn-fed and 100% Iberian, whereas the Red seal specifies that this ham is 75% or 50% Iberian, fed from acorns and other natural resources. The Green seal corresponds to Cebo de Campo Iberian ham which comes from 10%, 75% or 100% Iberian pigs, however instead of acorns, these animals are fed from cereals, legumes and wild herbs. Finally the White seal refers to Cebo Iberian ham – this is where farm based animals have been fed a diet of fodder made from cereals and legumes. This method of categorisation equips the consumer with the necessary knowledge needed to understand the depth of quality involved.
The passion of the Iberian community extends further into its commitment to provide key information and absolute transparency. The ‘Iberico’ app was introduced to allow consumers to verify hams and learn more about the conditions and profiles of animals as well as food safety and quality control – definitely worth a download.
As the saying goes, good things come to those who wait, and Iberian ham is no exception! The ham needs a minimum of 20 months curing time, however the salting, resting and maturing process can sometimes take up to 7 years! As much as all parts of the process are important, the ageing period is where the meat acquires its particular scent, texture and colour. Stored in a cool and dark environment, the ham is able to sweat, allowing for fat to diffuse – creating complex flavour profiles. With the knowledge that each slice has been patiently waiting years to be gobbled up, the eating process becomes even more unique and satisfying!
However, the most exciting part of the Iberian ham process of course comes with consumption. To conserve the ham so it can be devoured at it’s best, keep it refrigerated between 2ºC to 5ºC and take out to rest for at least 2 hours before serving. For optimum flavour, the pack can be briefly submerged in lukewarm water – something I definitely recommend!
To discover more about the art of Iberian ham, visit the Ham Passion Tour website. A space dedicated to highlighting the history of traditional Iberian ham and it’s important place within the Mediterraenean, and now European, diet. Plus they feature a few top tips on carving and plating so you can serve in style – perfect for Christmas get togethers.
If you feel like taking your ham journey a step or two further and verge into cured-meat connoisseur territory, @hampassiontour offers a variety of workshops and culinary masterclasses across Europe, including London. The team also partake in a ‘ham truck’ tour of some of Europe’s ham obsessed cities – not to be missed.