6 Reasons that Pata Negra Jamón de Bellota Increases the Appetite

Pata negra ham slices

It is unusual for a customer to explain why they buy jamón de bellota. We mostly assume it is simply because Pata Negra is great. But there are several customers who have told us that they buy ham because of how little they feel hungry and it helps them to boost their appetite.

For most of us gluttony is a problem, but there are some who need to stimulate their appetite because their lack of appetite causes them important nutritional deficiencies. Some medical treatments, such as chemotherapy to cure cancer, cause nausea and lack of appetite. Also stress, the deficit of some minerals and various digestive disorders are associated with reluctance. There seems that there are even some people with a sense of permanent satiety that makes them hate food.

So we thought it would be interesting to find out the reasons why Iberian ham, and especially de bellota, is so appealing even in adverse conditions. Here are the findings:

Why jamón de bellota increases the appetite

  1. It’s delicious and healthy
    The first thing recommended to stimulate the appetite is to eat what you like. That is, what you most enjoy. If you have a medical prescription to avoid fatty products, remove the fat and eat only lean. Pure Iberian ham (Pata Negra), such as Cinco Jotas Ham from Jabugo, is usually fattier than ham from mixed breed pigs, but the difference is minimal. However, the level of healthy oleic acid tends to be higher than what is found in mixed breed. Our recommendation: pure bred.
  2. It’s associated with good memories
    In most of our homes, jamón de bellota, is eaten only during large celebrations: dinners on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, weddings, christenings, communions… The memory of these good moments enjoying a ham in the best company opens up our appetite.
  3. The smell is mild and pleasant
    Unlike other foods, such as cheese or seafood, the smell of ham is very subtle. Strong odours can sometimes cause rejection, and therefore are not recommended in these cases. So, it is best consumed unheated at room temperature so as to prevent the smell getting stronger.
    Serrano ham, if it has had a minimum maturation period of 18 months, also has pleasant and toasty aromas. But if the curing period is anything less than 12 months it still smells a little like fresh meat and is not so appetizing.
  4. It doesn’t fill you up because it doesn’t contain fibre
    Fibre, present above all in vegetables (1.5% in lettuce) and cereals (2.2% in brown rice), is essential for a balanced diet but is very filling (it produces gases) and can be difficult to digest.
  5. The high zinc content helps regulate digestion
    This mineral is necessary, among other things, to regulate digestion and prevent loss of appetite. It is mainly found in protein-rich foods such as pork, and some seafood.
  6. It’s very quick to prepare
    Poor appetite coupled with lack of time leads to some people skipping breakfast, lunch or dinner. With ham there are no excuses: you open the fridge, take out a packet with already sliced ham inside. It’s also great for snacking, allowing you to distribute food intake and reduce the size of main meals (some people can’t manage a full plate).

There are other natural remedies that help to ignite your appetite, such as mint infusions, anise or liquorice. There are also medicines and drugs, like those derived from cannabis (marijuana and hashish) which act directly on brain receptors that trigger appetite. But it’s clear that, as delicious as Iberico jamón de bellota is, nothing has been invented so far.

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How to choose a ham holder for a Jamon Pata Negra

The other day my friend Isabel told me that at home only her sister cuts the Pata Negra. Not her father or her mother or her grandfather… only her sister was brave enough to face the pig’s leg. They aren’t actually afraid of the knife, but the reproaches they’d receive from other diners: it’s sliced too thick, too thin, don’t forget the gristle, put a little elbow grease into it before we all starve, that’s not where the meat starts, you’re going to cut yourself… Family can be very cruel sometimes, as Julius Caesar found out more than 2000 years ago.

Not wanting to cause a familial breakdown, some choose to take the ham to the butcher for it to be sliced and packed. Not a bad idea, but it’ll start off great and the next thing you know you’re waiting for Santa Claus with a bacon cheeseburger in lieu of ham, polvorones and singing Christmas carols to a bottle of Anís del Mono.

Therefore, we take the bull by the horns and do it ourselves. The first thing to ask is whether we have the right tools. The knife is crucial, but you can buy a decent one anywhere. It must, of course, be sharpened occasionally because if it doesn’t it’ll become as harmless as a lamb.

What’s hardest to find – almost as difficult as finding an honest politician – is adequate support. Some professional ham cutters tune their jamoneras to improve performance and make the work safer and more comfortable. Some attach a rubber base to have a better grip to the table, others make do with a skewer that allows them to adjust the height of the tip (the side opposite to the hoof) and some daring individuals even patent and manufacture their own designs, such as the person from Malaga who devised this upright cross-sectional jamonero.

The experts know very well what they need: they do, after all, cut hundreds of hams every year. Some are even capable of slicing 36 hams in just 40 hours, more than most mere mortals cut in their lifetime. But all the amateurs out there, do you know what to look for when choosing a ham stand? Here are some tips and recommendations:

1. Stability

So the ham doesn’t move while cutting it, you need to make sure the base doesn’t slip off of the surface on which it’s resting. Despite not weight much, just 4 to 6 rubber studs would be more than sufficient to ensure adequate clamping (see photo 1). Good support helps us to avoid sudden movements and potential accidents, and to provide a fine cut.

Rubber studs on the base of the ham holder
Photo 1: Rubber studs on the base of the jamonero support

2. Comfort

There are two basic elements that make cutting more comfortable: the rotating grip and height adjustment.

The rotating grip on the trotter (see photo 2) allows you to change cutting zone very quickly without having to loosen or tighten the screw that secures the leg. Just loosen and adjust the screw that allows rotation of the inner ring, and when it’s in the desired position, retighten it; this is especially useful for professional cutters. These systems also tend to hold the part better and provide greater stability.

Ham rotation with a rotating grip
Photo 2: Rotation of the ham without having to loosen or retighten the attached screw.

These systems are designed primarily for Pata Negra Bellota hams, which are usually 100% Iberian and therefore have a very narrow shank. With that said, 6cm in diameter is enough to pass the hoof and ankle through the hoop. If, on the contrary, you want to cut a serrano ham, you’d better choose another grip system if you don’t want to have surprises.

With height adjustment we can always cut the same way, regardless of the size of the piece or the part of the ham we are working on. It allows us to modify the inclination of the axis of the hoof-tip (see photo 3).

Photo 3: Height-adjustable ham stand
Photo 3: Height-adjustable ham stand

3. Storage and transportation

When the jamonero is intended only for occasional use, the ideal situation would be for it to occupy minimal space. In this sense, some models can fold the arm onto the base (see photo 4). This is also highly recommended for when we need to take it from one place to another.

Foldable jamonero
Photo 4: Foldable jamonero.

4. Durability

Virtually all brackets costing €25-30 can last us a lifetime if we use it to only cut one or two hams a year. However, professionals need a stronger product that doesn’t show any aesthetic signs of deterioration (chips, appearance of rust, marks on wood, etc.).

Wood or steel boards are more resistant. They don’t usually break, even after a fall. Silestone or plastic based boards are more fragile. In contrast, silestone is not easily scratched and looks brand new when it’s been cleaned.
Ham holders for sale at Ibergour (sorted by price):

SubjectionRotating gripFoldableAdjustable heightProfessional use
Buarfe foldable ham standGood subjection
Jamotec Hogar ham standExcellent subjection
Jamotec JP Luxe ham standExcellent subjection
Buarfe rotary and foldable ham standExcellent subjection
Vittatus ham standExcellent subjection
Lodiví ham standGood subjection
Jamotec J2 ham standExcellent subjection
Jamotec J1+ ham standExcellent subjection
Jamotec J4R ham standExcellent subjection
Jamotec J5R ham standStrong subjection
Buarfe Elite Inox ham standExcellent subjection
Buarfe Elite Plus Inox ham standExcellent subjection
Jamotec J4P ham standExcellent subjection
Jamotec F1 ham standExcellent subjection

Other less important considerations

Length of the base: Iberian hams usually measure about 90 cm and any of the above table brackets allow for a proper cut. However, restaurants and shops selling cut hams tend to prefer larger hams, from 9 to 12 kg, because they have a superior performance. Our recommendation in these cases is to opt for a fairly long base, because otherwise you’d have no support for the tip of the ham (the end opposite to the hoof) to be out of the holder.

Furthermore, the shorter the base, the steeper the ham. There are those who prefer it this way but usually it makes it a little more difficult to keep the cutting area flat.

Skewer: Many of the jamoneros have a spike on one end to hold the end of the ham that touches the base (see photo 5). While it’s useful in the shorter and lighter jamoneros it is not so essential in high-end ones as the subjection of the hoof is very good. In fact, many professionals do not like using a skewer because it maims that part of the ham, causing an air inlet that can affect the quality of meat in that area.

Jamonero skewer
Photo 5: Skewer on the jamonero

Cleaning: Plastic, silestone or steel bases are the easiest to clean. Wood always absorbs some fat which poses no hygienic risk, but it affects your appearance. Over time – and after a few hams – spots start appearing.

Price: Given the amount of a good ham, it’s not worth skimping on the jamonero or the knives, because the final result can be very different depending on their quality. Getting a fine cut and reduce the risk of injury is priceless.

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Why doesn’t a good Pata Negra ham taste salty?

Pata negra ham slices on plateIf you are asked which is saltier, a slice of Iberian jamón de bellota or a crisp? The answer will almost always be the crisp. Moreover, if I ask you to first try a sample of each, the answer wouldn’t change.

The reality is very different: a bag of crisps typically contains 1.5g of salt per 100g of potatoes, while Pata Negra ham contains between 3 to 4.5g per 100g. Even the Serrano ham, which usually doesn’t even reach 5% salt content, seems significantly saltier than Bellota ham despite it having only slightly more salt.

Another example: seawater has a salinity of about 3.5%, but it seems much saltier than jamón.

What masks the salt?

The marbling fat and protein deserve credit in this case. As everyone knows, Iberian ham has a lot of fat marbling, which means the white streaks in the slice. If it’s also Bellota, the fat will melt in the mouth and inundate our taste buds. Thus, our taste buds will be concentrated on the fat and stop being so sensitive to the salt (the sodium of the salt, to be exact).

On the other hand, during the 3 or 4-year maturation period of a good Pata Negra, the salt combines with meat protein, reducing its impact on the taste buds.

Whereas Jamón de bellota seems sweet, it actually doesn’t have much less salt than Serrano ham. You should always follow the recommendations of experts not to consume cured ham more than 2 or 3 times a week, the equivalent to between 100 and 150g, and thus will not reach 15% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) by WHO (World Health Organisation). We can raise this amount if we moderate our consumption of salt in other foods such as salads and soups, for example. Worth the sacrifice, right?

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11 reasons for the Price difference in Bellota hams

We can find Iberian jamón de bellota for less than €40/kg and for more than €400/kg. It’s a huge difference which is not justified solely by the quality of the final product, but a combination of different factors.

1. Breed

Better quality Pata Negra hams come from 100% Iberian pigs, which cost to raise is significantly higher than cross-breeds. They fatten a lot slower, they produce smaller hams and the litters are smaller in number.

2. Food on the farm

Iberian pigs on a farm
Iberian pigs on a farm, a few days before going to the pasture to start the montanera period (free-range grazing)

From weaning until it is driven to the mountain, the animal spends a few months on a farm, where it is fed on a diet of fodder. The pig can’t go from drinking the milk of its mother one day to eating acorns the next; it needs time to adapt. One example is what we do with human babies. Once they stop weaning we slowly begin to introduce baby food (cereals and fruit), alternating them with a bottle. This goes on for several weeks until the baby is ready to try other foods such as fish and meat, and later on dried fruits and nuts, etc.

Returning to animal food, there are many prices that are dependent on the quality of the raw material and the combination of cereals and other nutrients in the formula.

3. Age and weight on entering the montanera phase

The law sets minimum conditions for the age and weight to be able to label a ham “de bellota”:

  • The weight on beginning the montanera phase should be between 92 and 115 kg.
  • During the montanera phase they should be fattened at least 46 kg on a diet of acorns and grass.
  • The minimum age at slaughter is 14 months.
  • The minimum individual carcass weight (after removal of the skin, head and viscera) is 115 kg, except for 100% Iberian animals, in which case the minimum is 108 kg.

Thus, a producer who meets the minimum legal requirements is able to sell hams with a lower production cost than those who are significantly above the threshold, at the expense of quality, of course.

4. Duration of the montanera period

The Royal Decree 4/2014 rules that the pig must spend a minimum of 2 months in the pasture, but there are farmers who extend this by 1 or 2 months, or more. In some cases pigs are given 2 montanera periods. That is, when acorn season is over, they are brought back to the farm until the next season, when they will eat more acorns again.

The longer the montanera period is, the more acorns are eaten and the more exercise undertaken, and so the Pata Negra will be of a higher quality. But this comes with a cost: the shepherds and vets must work more, and the number of casualties among the pigs rises as a result of illness, theft or attacks from other wildlife that inhabit the mountain. Furthermore, the jamón will need more months of maturation, because the quality of the fat would be higher and so the oxidation would be slower.

5. Quality of the montanera

Iberian pigs eating acorns in the pasture
Iberian pigs eating acorns in the pasture

It’s not the fair to put 50 pigs in a pasture of 500 hectares, the same as you would put 100 in the same amount of space. They’d get half the amount of acorns.

Naturally the law limits the density of animals per square metre, and the density of oaks. Therefore manufacturers need to hire an inspection company to certify that their pastures are compliant. But even within the legal limits there are some producers who are closer to the minimum than others.

The quality and quantity of acorns is not the same at all times nor in all pastures. Pigs are very selective and will find the best acorns first, the biggest and sweetest, which are the major contributors to the overall quality of the hams and sausages.

6. Organic vs. Conventional

Undoubtedly one of the aspects that most influences the final price is the condition of organic ham. The limitation in pharmacological treatments raises the mortality of pigs, the absence of preservatives makes many hams spoil before being sold and the cost of the feed is much higher. We must also add the costs of certification and control of the authorities.

Production of organic Iberico ham in Spain is negligible; we only have half a dozen small producers.

7. Maturation period

Hams curing in the cellar
Hams curing in the cellar

A Jamón de bellota loses between 8% and 10% of its weight each year that it’s hanging in the cellar (between 7% and 9% in the shoulders). Basically what you lose is water. Thus, if the sale comes within 2 years instead of 3, we can reduce its price by about 10% while maintaining the same margin.

Not surprisingly the quality is not the same. One extra year of maturation brings new aromas, a more intense flavour and easier cutting.

8. Salt

Excess salt, besides being harmful to health also hides a lot of the flavours of ham. Consumers tend to prefer sweeter and softer Iberian hams, especially in recent times.

But what happens if we fall short of salt? Well, two things can happen:

  1. The meat contaminates and rots (salt is the main preservative), or
  2. The muscle tissue loses consistency and flavour. It’s what people in the business call jamón chicloso (gummy ham).

Thus, those manufacturers who strive to minimize the concentration of salt to get better tasting hams know they will have to throw out some pieces. Consequently, they’ll have to sell the others at a higher price to compensate for these losses.

9. Brand

Prestige, exclusivity and advertising campaigns have a direct effect on the selling price.

In 2006 Cárnicas Maldonado launched a special series of €1500 hams called Alba Quercus (renamed Albarragena). Others followed such as Joselito with his Vintage series at €2000 and Jamones Premium by Arturo Sánchez at €4.000… Logically the series don’t last very long; the hams are really good but the price per kg hardly justifies the final quality. In fact, they are often instruments for marketing campaigns.

On the other hand, manufacturers with strong brands know that customers are willing to pay a little more for the security that comes with their name and reputation.

10. Commerce

A ham of the same brand can be found at very different prices between one store and another. Not everyone works with the same margins. It’s also possible to lower the price of the ham but end up paying for the service: high delivery costs, very restrictive return policy, poor customer service…

The country where the trade is largely determines the final price. Some manufacturers require sellers to buy the product to the official importer only, and therefore the prices are usually much higher than in its place of origin or in a more competitive environment.

11. Time of year in which the purchase is made

The price of ham is usually quite stable throughout the year, although there may be periods of shortages that drive up the price. It happens, for example, when a manufacturer has exhausted the pieces of a campaign and the next lot are still a little tender.

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