The Black Iberian Pig has very ancient origins. It derives from the interbreeding of a pig breed introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Phoenicians with the native wild boar. Various breeds resulted from this, and the so-called Colorada (“Coloured”) and Negra (“Black”) are the two main ones surviving today. Furthermore, each area where Ibérico pork is produced has its own variant of a breed: Rubio, Manchade de Jabugo, Retinta, and Trobiscal are descendant from the Colorada, and Entrepelada and Lampiña from the Negra.
The denomination Pata Negra developed because originally the most common breeds were the Entrepelada and the Lampiña, both of which have distinctive black hoofs. Today, however, the term Pata Negra is used more generically for any ham made from 100% purebred Ibérico pork, regardless of whether it is derived from the Negra or Colorada breeds.
Each geographical area has its own variant of the breed, and each of these has its own specific characteristics, even if these are barely perceptible in the final product.
However, there are quite obvious differences between a ham produced from 100% purebred Ibérico pork (of whichever variant of the breed) and a ham produced with crossbred Ibérico pork, not only in the shape and bone structure of the leg, but also from an organoleptic point of view.
In order to be able to classify an Iberian ham (Jamón Ibérico) of excellent quality it needs to be made from an animal of pure (100%) Ibérico pork, or, alternatively, from a cross-breed of at least 75% Ibérico with some Duroc-Jersey meat.
In the first case, the ham is called 100% bellota ibérico ham, while in the second case it is bellota ibérico ham.
The physical appearance of the Iberian Pig differentiates itself very clearly from that of other breeds, because it is much more long-limbed, owing also to the fact that it is raised free-range.
The head is small in proportion to the rest of the body, the snout is big, the neck short and very muscular, and the hoof open and black. The animals have little fur, their skin is dark and sometimes features light, white, beige, or brown, marks, while the legs are long, thin and muscular, enabling them to cover great distances on the hunt for food.
Owing to its peculiar genetic characteristics, the Ibérico Pig is the only pig breed in the world that can store great amounts of adipose tissue which then seeps into the muscle tissue, lending its meat a distinctive aspect and incomparable oiliness, texture, and aroma.
Diet and habitat are the reasons for its singularity.
The production of a jamón puro de bellota is a very long and costly process. This, together with its exceptional flavour, make it a very exclusive, sometimes prohibitive, and often unknown culinary product.
The Iberian Pig is raised free-range and feeds on acorns from the Spanish oak forests in Extremadura, Andalusia, Castilla-León, as well as large areas of the Portuguese woodlands. Each animal requires roughly two hectares of forest in order to feed itself, seeing as their diet consists entirely of the fruit of the oak trees. This is one of the main reasons why it is such an exclusive and expensive product.
The free-range phase of the Ibérico Pig’s rearing, called Montanera in Spanish, lasts around three to four months, from October to January: it begins when the acorns are ripe and can be consumed, and lasts until they have all been used up.
The great amount of physical exercise of this period, when the animal freely moves around forests and meadows looking for food, delays the increase in weight and allows the adipose tissue to seep into the muscle tissue. Normally these pigs never weigh more than 180 kg, even if, during this phase, each animal can eat up to 12 kg of acorns per day. The acorn contains mono- and polyunsaturated fats and is rich in glucose, characteristics which contribute to the meat’s unique aroma and flavour, and furthermore are of obvious benefit to the cardiovascular system.
Another reason that makes the jamón ibérico de bellota so special is that it is only a tiny part of all the Ibérico ham produced in Spain. There even are geographical and territorial restrictions which limit this type of production so that the right ratio between size of terrain, amount of acorns available per season, and nutritional daily need of an animal is guaranteed.
Different varieties of ham made from Ibérico pork can be obtained depending on the pig’s breed, its rearing and food. According to current Spanish regulations (RD 4/2014), the following products, ranking from highest to lowest quality, exist:
The following four Denominations of Origin (Denominación de Origen or D.O.) for the production of Ibérico ham are recognised in Spain:
There are two possibilities for the production of Ibérico ham: industrial and artisanal. The first production type aims at satisfying an ever-growing global market with a far from excellent, standardised product to be sold in large-scale retail, while the latter seeks the intrinsic values of a natural product, which is loyal to traditions, genuine, and pure, and addresses a sensitive and demanding gourmet clientele.
The figure of the Maestro Jamonero is absolutely essential in the artisanal production of VALNIEZO Ibérico ham. Owing to great experience and expertise, the Maestro is able to carry out and monitor each phase of the entire curing process leading to a truly excellent product which is a globally recognised culinary treasure.
The stages of production are:
It is vital that the individual pieces are monitored every day during this long and delicate final production stage in order to ward off insects and keep the amounts of ventilation right so that the ageing occurs gradually and constantly.