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. In fact, cured hams from white pigs are popularly known in Spain as "Serrano hams".
The European Union has registered Jamón Serrano (Serrano ham) as a Guaranteed Traditional Specialty and this name may be used on labels only if the hams meet certain requirements in the curing process. Basically, these are a minimum curing time, low salt content and a specified fat thickness.
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 Jamón de Huelva Designation of Origin - 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 20% (hind leg) and 25% (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 35% of the total weight of an Iberian shoulder, and 45% of a ham, can be consumed. That is, 65% of the weight of a shoulder (55% 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 fat of the ham itself to keep it from drying out and losing its aroma and flavour.
The optimum resting period is 30 to 48 months for bellota-grade 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 jamon 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 regulatory board of the Designation of Origin or by the certifying company.
Nevertheless, the best external indicator is the fat on the butt end (the lower part of the ham furthest from the hoof). It is shiny and supple, to the extent that a finger can be inserted into it. The fat on a cebo grade ham is much harder, more rigid and tougher.
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.
Fatty acids provide energy and are essential for biological processes in the human body. In addition, the proportion of fatty acids in ham fat can tell us much about its quality.
There are four acids (oleic, palmitic, stearic and linoleic) that best determine the quality of a piece. The most commonly used analytical method is gas chromatography, which uses specimens of subcutaneous or intramuscular fat. It is fast and economical but gives false positives if the pig has eaten compound feed enriched with fatty acids. In other words, test results may show it to be a bellota grade ham when in actual fact it is not.
The amount of oleic acid in a bellota grade ham is usually above 55%, whereas in a cebo grade ham it rarely reaches 50%. Palmitic acid is less than 20% in a bellota ham but may be as much as 25% in cebo grade. Stearic acid is around 9% in a bellota ham and 12% in cebo grade. And linoleic acid is about 10% in a bellota ham and not more than 8% in cebo grade. These percentages may vary slightly depending on the year of slaughter (better or worse acorns) and the pig breed since the metabolism of each animal is different. We use a study by the University of Cordova as a reference.
Oleic acid is good for the heart; it helps lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise good cholesterol (HDL). It is also found in large amounts in olive oil and avocados, among other foods. Linoleic acid is also very important. It is an essential fatty acid that our body cannot create and we must get it from our diet. It is good for the circulatory, nervous and immune systems. The other two acids, palmitic and stearic, are saturated fats and should be eaten in moderation. Bellota grade ham has more "good" acids and fewer "bad" acids than cebo grade, so not only does it taste better, it is also healthier!