Think ham is ham? Stuff that you buy pre-sliced in supermarkets to make up a sandwich, and as long as it’s pink it doesn’t matter where it comes from?
Well, not Iberian ham – jamón ibérico. When it comes to cured ham of the Mediterranean style, Iberian ham will have to be the crown jewels of all hams in the world.
What makes Iberian ham so good?
True 100% Iberian ham must be made from pure Iberian breed of pigs native to the Iberian peninsula in Andalucia of Spain. These Iberian pigs are fed on the acorns from holm oak, gall oak and cork oak, a diet that gives the ham their very unique and particular flavour.
If the ham is not made from 100% pure Iberian pigs fed on these delicious acorns, then the ham cannot be qualified as proper jamón ibérico!
Of course, much of the effort is in the making of the ham but when it comes to taste, the making of true Iberian ham begins with raising of the pigs.
How to raise an Iberian pig
Due to the ham’s Denomination of Origin label, the Iberian pigs must be raised to the strictest regulations towards their happiness and wellbeing.
During the winter, pigs are kept fed on cereal and acorns, but for two to three months in the year, the pigs roam free, travelling around 14km a day (exercising more than the average city person in our society!) around the oak forest foraging for acorns and exercising those all important muscles. A general rule on how much space pigs need, is that there should be a ratio of 60 oak trees per animal!
During a recent visit to the forest farm of premium Iberian ham brand Cinco Jotas in Jabugo, we witnessed just how happy and healthy the pigs looked!
Could eating Iberian ham be good for your health?
What is special about these pig’s diet is that these types of acorns have non-saturating fat, so the pigs are eating non-saturating fat and as a result, when the ham is made for our consumption, we are also eating non-saturating fat! At the same time, these acorns are also a good source of omega-3 oil too!
Apparently, a clinical study was performed by the Juan Ramon Jimenez Hospital that showed a moderate consumption of jamón ibérico is good for our cardiovascular health. The recommended dosage is 40g a day and just for the record, they were reported to have used the ham from Cinco Jotas.
A ham that is healthy(ish) for you? Don’t mind if I get a second helping!
Cinco Jotas Iberian ham museum in Jabugo
If you haven’t heard of Cinco Jotas, you need to seek it out and give their ham a go. You’ll never go back. And a visit to the brand’s Iberian ham museum is a must if you ever find yourself in the town of Jabugo in the Andalucia region.
Iberian pig products has been sold in the town since the year 1879, and they say Jabugo is the home of Iberian ham.
You get to learn all the history behind Iberian ham and the house brand Cinco Jotas, a brand synonymous with quality Iberian ham with a history of five generations of ham makers.
The company keep their pigs in Jabugo natural parks which are declared as Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO containing some of the oldest native acorn trees of the region.
“Our pigs are happy,” said Cinco Jotas’ public relations executive Marco Alvarez. “Happy pigs make delicious ham.”
Ham making is serious business. Each process has its own master with years of experience behind them. From shaping, to salting to storing to airing, each step comes with its intricacies that may look simple but with one small slip could affect the end quality of the ham.
And there’s art in tasting the Iberian ham as well!
When it comes to tasting, you don’t just treat jamón ibérico the same way as you treat sandwich ham!
We are taught first to feel it, rub it between our fingers and feel the silky (non-saturated) fat run over our skin. Then you smell. Inhale the aromas of the forest and appreciate the pig that sacrificed itself this culinary pleasure. Then, you eat. Place the ham on your tongue to allow it to melt with the heat of your mouth.
It’s like wine tasting! And yes, you really can taste quality.
How else can you eat Iberian hams?
To eat it the way Andalucians do – is to have it on top of fresh smashed tomatoes on a piece of good quality bread for breakfast.
Or… so this might be a little controversial but one of the best dishes we had touring around in Andalucia was a simple plate of hot chips topped with broken eggs and ham!
So simple, so good!
Where to get your Iberian ham fix?
Visit Cinco Jotas in Jabugo the next time you are in Andalucia (90 mins drive from Seville).
If you are not travelling and can’t find it in any stores around you, look them up online!