Pata negra refers to the color of the hoof, but not all Iberian pigs have black hoofs, nor are black hoofs found exclusively in this breed. Maximum quality is determined essentially by breed and diet, so assuming the drying and curing processes have been correctly performed, an Iberian pig with an acorn-based diet will yield the very best ham. Hams sold by IberGour are always Iberico Jamon pata negra. More information on pata negra hams.
The adjective serrano does not refer to a breed or quality of ham; it only indicates the type of cut - a "V" cut - with which the pig's leg is detached. Consequently, serrano hams may also come from non Iberian (Iberico) pigs.
Jabugo ham is ham that has been produced and prepared in the territory of Jabugo (Huelva). Hams have been produced in this area - belonging to the Designation of Origin Jamón de Huelva - since time immemorial. Because of its fame many people believe that this ham comes from a special breed of pig, although it does not. The best hams produced in this area come from Iberian breed pigs, including a local strain of the breed: "el manchado" (spotted pig) of Jabugo, thus called because of the white spots on its skin. In fact, the best Jabugo ham is actually Ibérico ham.
They are crystallizations essentially composed of the amino acid tyrosine, which appears when proteins are broken down. Not only are they not harmful, they typically denote an optimum curing and maturation process.
Between 30% (hind leg) and 40% (shoulder cut) of the weight of the ham is bone. Cut into pieces, the bone is a wonderful ingredient for stews and stocks.
Usually about 40% of the total weight of an Iberian shoulder, and 50% of a ham, can be consumed. That is, 60% of the weight of a shoulder (50% in a ham) consists of bone, hoof, outer rind and excess fat (fat that is not eaten).
From the moment it is first cut - or just before doing so - the ham should be at room temperature in a cool, dry place. The cut area should be covered with the skin and outer fat of the ham itself to keep it from drying out and losing its aroma and flavour.
The optimum resting period is 24 to 28 months for hind leg cuts and 18 to 28 months for shoulder cuts. After this there is a risk that the ham will become too dry, although there have been tastings of hams weighing 9 to 10 Kg, and matured for over 5 years in bodega conditions, with excellent results.
During the growing phase pigs need other feed besides acorns while they are developing and their bone structure is forming. When their weight is between 80 and 105 kilos they begin grazing in the "dehesa", where they will replace around 60% of their entry weight on a diet of acorns and grasses.
It is very difficult to know by looking at the outside of a ham whether it has had a diet of only acorns and grasses, or whether its diet has been supplemented with commercial feed. To be sure, check the quality certification label conferred by the Designation of Origin.
Hind leg cuts are preferred over shoulder cuts because slices have a more attractive appearance, but the flavour is virtually the same. The difference in price is due to the fact that there is more meat on the hind leg cut.
Slicing a ham or shoulder ia easy if you have the right equipment (knife & ham holder) and follow the steps desceibed in our Ham and Shoulder Slicing Guide. You can also download our slicing manual in PDF format.