The Best Ham in the World is from Spain

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, aka Iberian Acorn-fed Ham

"Can we visit any jamón producers?", travelers frequently ask me. I tell them it depends… It depends on which part of Spain they are traveling to. You see, jamón ibérico de bellota is not produced everywhere in Spain. The conditions have to be optimal for the pigs and for the curing of the hams. That translates to the proximity of the dehesa together with the temperature variations between hot summers and cold winters, given that the hams cure for two to three years.

This jamón-producing business is hyper-regional, and the leading jamón-producing regions in Spain have their own DOPs (Denominación de origin protegida, or certified appellations). Exactly like wine regions. All of the DOPs are in Western and Southern Spain: Andalucía, Extremadura and Castilla-León. The four DOPs are listed below.

    •    Jamón Ibérico D.O.P. Jamón de Huelva (Andalucía)

    •    Jamón Ibérico D.O.P. Los Pedroches (Andalucía)

    •    Jamón Ibérico D.O.P. Jamón de Guijuelo (Castilla-León)

    •    Jamón Ibérico D.O.P. Dehesa de Extremadura (Extremadura)

Iberian pigs on the dehesa

Iberian pigs on the dehesa

WHAT IS JAMÓN IBÉRICO DE BELLOTA?

Jamón ibérico de bellota is made from pure bred Iberian pigs that spend the last months of their lives ranging free on the oak and cork tree-studded dehesa in Spain and Portugal. The dehesa is a unique ecosystem which has thankfully been preserved in Western Spain consisting of open grassland with acorn-producing Holm Oak trees and cork trees. The oak trees drop their acorns, known as bellotas, in the summer and fall. The pigs that become jamones de bellota may spend the first months of their lives in pens eating corn and feed, but the last “dehesa” months spent eating the fallen acorns and grasses are crucial to the marbling and the exquisite flavor of the final product.

Why Is Jamón So Healthy?

The best thing about jamón: Jamón ibérico, or any naturally air-cured Iberian ham, is good for you! It’s chock full of mono-unsaturated fat. This explanation from jamon.com explains the transformation from saturated fat to mono-unsaturated fat that occurs in the curing process.

With the Bellota hams, the most miraculous transformation is of the fats. Through this period of heating and cooling, salting and drying, the fats are broken down. Because of the antioxidants in the acorns and the unique curing process, the saturated fats are changed into healthy mono-unsaturated fats high in oleic acid. The only fat higher in oleic acid is olive oil."
Iberian Jamón

Iberian Jamón

TYPES OF JAMONES IBÉRICOS:

Bellota: Their early diet may be feed, but later the diet consists of acorns and wild grasses and plants. They produce the top-tier of hams.

Recebo: They also spend time in the dehesa eating acorns and wild plants, but during the last period they are fed corn and vegetable-based feed.

Cebo: Their diet consists exclusively of animal feed.

All of these types of jamón are good. Keeping in mind that jamón ibérico de bellota costs twice as much as jamón de recebo or jamón de cebo, most people don't spluge on the pure acorn-fed Iberian Ham, choosing instead one of the lower-priced hams. The New York Times quotes a price for a Cinco Jotas ham: "A single leg of the finest ham from Cinco Jotas — weighing almost 18 pounds — costs about $670 in Spain. (In the United States, the price is about double.)"

In exaltation of jamón ibérico, the owner of Joselito jamón producer says in the New York Times:

“This ham is as natural as food can get — no added heavy metals, preservatives or colorings — and it comes from an animal that has built up muscle by eating the best food and exercising a lot in beautiful surroundings,” said José Gómez, the owner of Joselito (producer and exporter of Iberian ham).

Time to go make some pan con tomate with a few pieces of jamón ibérico on top…