Pata negra refers to the color of the hoof, but not all Iberian pigs have black hoofs, nor are black hoofs exclusive of 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 jamon.
Since 2014, the Iberian ham law strictly regulates the commercial use of words such as "ibérico", "bellota" or "pata negra". Specifically, the law establishes that only hams and shoulders from pigs whose mother is 100% purebred Iberian, which guarantees that the pig from which the ham comes from was at least 50% Iberian breed, can be called "Iberian". Additionally, among Iberian hams and shoulders, only hams and shoulders from 100% purebred Iberian pigs (the father was also 100% purebred Iberian) raised in the wild and fed on acorns in the dehesa ecosystem can be called "pata negra" ham.
The adjective serrano does not refer to a breed or quality of jamon; it only indicates the type of cut - a "V" cut - with which the pig's leg is detached. Consequently, serrano jamones may also come from non Iberian (Iberico) pigs. In fact, cured jamones from white pigs are popularly known in Spain as "Jamon Serrano".
The European Union has registered "Jamón Serrano" as a Guaranteed Traditional Specialty and this name may be used on labels only if the jamones meet certain requirements in the curing process. Basically, these are a minimum curing time, low salt content and a specified fat thickness.
Iberian ham is a small part of the Serrano ham produced in Spain. They are certified hams and shoulders (which pass a series of controls on both the raw material and the production processes) from pigs whose mother was 100% purebred Iberian, which guarantees a minimum breed purity of 50% (as sometimes the mother is crossed with non-Iberian pigs).
Jabugo ham is that which has been produced and elaborated under the protection of the D.O. Jabugo Regulatory Council. Most producers are located in the town of Jabugo (Huelva), where hams have been produced since time immemorial. Its fame is such that many people believe that these are hams from pigs of a special breed, but this is not the case. The best hams produced in this locality come from Iberian breed pigs, some of which are of a racial variant native to the area: the "Manchado de Jabugo", whose skin has white spots. In short: the best Jabugo ham is, in fact, Iberian 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% (jamon) and 25% (paleta - shoulder ham -) 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 paleta (shoulder), and 45% of a jamon, can be consumed. That is, 65% of the weight of a paleta (55% in a jamon) 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 jamon should be at room temperature in a cool, dry place. The cut area should be covered with the fat of the jamon 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 jamones (hind legs) and 18 to 28 months for paletas (shoulder hams). After this there is a risk that the jamon will become too dry, although there have been tastings of jamones 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.
Otros aspectos exteriores en los que nos podemos fijar:
Jamones are preferred over paletas 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 jamon.
Slicing a jamon or paleta (shoulder) is easy if you have the right equipment (knife & ham stand) and follow the steps described in our Jamon and Paleta 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 jamon 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 jamon when in actual fact it is not.
The amount of oleic acid in a bellota grade jamon is usually above 55%, whereas in a cebo grade jamon it rarely reaches 50%. Palmitic acid is less than 20% in a bellota jamon but may be as much as 25% in cebo grade. Stearic acid is around 9% in a bellota jamon and 12% in cebo grade. And linoleic acid is about 10% in a bellota jamon 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.
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 jamon has more "good" acids and fewer "bad" acids than cebo grade, so not only does it taste better, it is also healthier!
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