Jamón ibérico

Jamón ibérico (Spanish: [xaˈmon iˈβeɾiko]; Portuguese: presunto ibérico [pɾɨˈzũtu iˈβɛɾiku]), "Iberian ham" is a variety of jamón or presunto, a type of cured leg of pork produced in Spain and Portugal.

Jamón ibérico
Jamón Ibérico
Alternative namesPata negra, Jabugo
Place of originSpain, Portugal
Main ingredientsHam
VariationsJamón serrano


Platter of jamón ibérico with beer and pan con tomate

According to Spain's denominación de origen rules and current regulations on jamón, the dry-cured jamón ibérico must be made from either pure breed Black Iberian pigs or cross-bred pigs at least 50% Black Iberian mixed only with Duroc pigs, the same restriction as required to keep official ibérico denomination on any Spanish pork meat product.

Jamón ibérico, especially the one labeled de bellota, has a smooth texture, rich, savory taste, and regular marbling. The fat content is relatively high compared to jamón serrano.



The black Iberian pig lives primarily in the central and southwestern region of the Iberian Peninsula, which includes both Portugal and Spain. In Spain, the black Iberian pig is typically found in the provinces of Huelva, Córdoba, Cáceres, Badajoz, Salamanca, Ciudad Real, and Seville. In Portugal, the central and southern regions have an abundance of this breed, with a predilection for the Alentejo region. In Portugal, the black Iberian pig is commonly referred to as porco preto ibérico or porco alentejano. The black Iberian pig is ingrained in the local Portuguese culture and tradition, with annual festivals in their honor, such as the Feira do Porco Preto, an annual festival in the region of Ourique.


Jamón ibérico in La Boqueria, Barcelona

Immediately after weaning, the piglets are fattened on barley and maize for several weeks. The pigs are then allowed to roam in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns, chestnuts, and roots, until the slaughtering time approaches. At that point, the diet may be strictly limited to chestnuts or acorns for the best-quality jamón ibérico, or maybe a mix of acorns and commercial feed for lesser qualities.

The hams from the slaughtered pigs are salted and left to begin drying for two weeks, after which they are rinsed and left to dry for another four to six weeks. The curing process then takes at least twelve months, although some producers cure their jamones ibéricos for up to 48 months. During the curing process the meat is dried in salt, which helps to prevent the build-up of harmful organisms, and then is hung to be exposed to the elements, producing an exterior layer of mold which helps to protect the meat inside.[1]

Preservation and storage

Normally, jamón is sold either sliced and vacuum-packed or as a whole leg. Vacuum-packed jamón may last up to 100 days at room temperature because the packaging seals out oxygen and slows the aging process.[2] A whole leg does not last as long. If the jamón is regularly cut and covered with clingfilm or cheesecloth, an opened leg may last for three months.[2]

Freezing is not recommended, since it damages the fibers in jamón and alters flavours.[2]

Commercial grading and labeling

Regulatory ibérico tags, in order of quality

The hams are labeled according to the pigs' diet and the percentage of the pigs' Iberian ancestry, with an acorn diet and pure-bred Iberians being most desirable. The current labeling system, based on a series of color-coded labels, was phased in starting in January 2014.[3]

  • The finest grade is called jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn). This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests (called dehesas) along the border between Spain and Portugal and eat only acorns during this last period. The exercise and diet have a significant effect on the flavor of the meat; the ham is cured for 36 months. This grade is divided into:
    • Black-label - jamón 100% ibérico de bellota, produced from pure-bred Iberian pigs
    • Red-label - jamón ibérico de bellota, produced from free-range pigs that are not pure-bred. The percentage of Iberian ancestry in the animal must be specified on the label. It can be either 75% or 50% pure ibérico pig breed.[4]
  • The next grade is Green label - jamón ibérico cebo de campo. This ham is from pigs that are pastured and fed a combination of acorns and grain. It can be either 100%, 75% or 50% pure ibérico pig breed.
  • The fourth type is White label - jamón ibérico de cebo, or simply, jamón ibérico. This ham is from pigs that are fed only grain. The ham is cured for 24 months. It can be either 100%, 75% or 50% pure ibérico pig breed.

Some notes:

  • As of 2014, the term pata negra refers exclusively to the black-label grade jamón ibérico.
  • The word puro (pure, referring to the breed) can be added to the previous qualities when both the father and mother of the slaughtered animal are of pure breed and duly registered on the pedigree books held by official breeders.
  • Images of acorns and dehesas on product labels are restricted to hams that qualify as bellota.[3]
  • The current labeling system also applies to paleta (front legs, with jamón coming from the hind leg) and caña de lomo (loin) cuts from Iberian pigs.[3]

Pata negra

Jamón pata negra, Setúbal

Meaning literally black foot or paw, pata negra is a commercial label for jamón ibérico. In colloquial Spanish and popular culture, it is used as a superlative or synonym of the best.

It referred to the color of the pigs' hoof, which are white or fair-colored in most traditional and commercial pork breeds in Spain, but always black in the Black Iberian breed.

The term used to be liberally applied in both Spanish and Portuguese, leading to quality and markets disputes, since the term was used interchangeably both as "great quality jamón" (of any breed) and ibérico jamón (of any quality). Alongside reputable pata negra producers, there were plenty of doubtful producers using the term in their labeling.

Jamón has also been sold unlabeled in small towns and unpretentious establishments all around rural Spain. While as a general rule, a black hoof should indicate an ibérico ham, the ancestry could be exceedingly cross-bred or untraceable, and also there were cases of ham sourced from rare breeds with dark hoofs, and even manually darkened hoofs.

Modern regulations only allow the use of the wording pata negra for black label jamón sourced from acorn-fed pure-bred Black Iberian pork.

The locality of Jabugo is entirely dedicated to the Jamón production.

Notable producers and protected designations

Notable producers of Ibérico are recognized by both the regulatory bodies of Spain, and the European Union. Their designations are legally protected. Some of them include:

  • D.O.P. Guijuelo – The characteristic pigs of this denomination are raised in the foothills of the sierras of Gredos and Béjar, within the autonomous communities of Castile and León and Extremadura, as well as in Andalusia and Castile-La Mancha. The protected zone is constituted by 77 municipalities of the southeast of the province of Salamanca, being the head town the Guijuelo itself.[5] 60% of the production of Jamón ibérico belongs to the DO Jamón de Guijuelo.[6]
  • D.O.P. Jabugo, Province of Huelva– Jamón made in the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche Natural Park, in the towns of Cumbres Mayores, Cortegana, Jabugo, Encinasola, Galaroza, etc., that make up the production zone of the Denominación de Origen Protegida de Jabugo. The entire town of Jabugo is devoted to the production of jamón ibérico. with the town's main square being called La plaza del Jamón.[7]
  • D.O.P. Dehesa de Extremadura – The production area is located in the pastures of cork oaks and evergreen oaks in the province of Cáceres and the province of Badajoz. Of the total dehesa area of the peninsula, Extremadura has about one million hectares.[8]
  • D.O.P. Los Pedroches, province of Córdoba – External shape elongated, stylized, profiled by the so-called cut in V. Keep the leg and the hoof for easy identification. Characteristic color of the rose to the red-purple and appearance to the cut with infiltrated fat in the muscular mass.[9]

Consumption and popularity

Jamones de Jabugo

Ibérico encompasses some of the most expensive ham produced in the world,[10][11] and its fatty marbled texture has made it very popular as a delicacy, with a hard to fulfill global demand[12][13] comparable to that of Kobe beef.

Around 13,000 metric tons of jamón ibérico and associated by-products were consumed in Spain in 2017, leading to an estimated 4 billion euros in retail sales.[12] The demand keeps growing while the availability is stagnated, as the production is maxing out to ensure quality. This is leading to a rise in the price of jamón ibérico, which is expected to double between 2017 and 2021.[12] However in 2020, the sales in Spain fell 35-40% because of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spain. Bars and restaurants, one of the outlets for the product, were closed or restricted. Wedding celebrations also were postponed or had minimal attendance. Since jamón takes years from slaughter to sale, producers had to lower prices or go online to clear their stocks.[14]

Since jamón ibérico production and export is limited,[12] buyer should beware and not fall victim of retail or wholesale bait-and-switch or fraud similar to that in olive oil export fraud, since it has been estimated that a sizable portion of both local market and exports are not actually ibérico.[15]

Availability in the United States

Prior to 2005, only pork raised and slaughtered outside Spain was allowed to be processed in Spain for export to the United States of America, due to fear of swine fever. In 2005, the first slaughterhouse in Spain was approved by the US Department of Agriculture to produce ibérico by-products for export to the United States.

The first jamones ibéricos were released for sale in the United States in December 2007, with the bellota ones following in July 2008.[16]

See also


  1. "How Long Does Iberico Ham Last & Should You Freeze Iberico Ham?". IbericoJamon. 22 November 2018. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  2. "How To Store & Preserve Jamon Iberico | Easy Read". Iberico Club | Jamon Iberico, Spanish Cheeses, Tapas & More. 19 March 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  3. "New quality labelling system for Iberian pork products". Andalucia.com Blog. 16 January 2014. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
  4. "Spanish Club Blog - Different Types of Quality of Spanish Hams". 6 October 2021.
  5. "Normas reguladoras del jamón "D.O. Jamón Guijuelo" (in Spanish). Government of Spain: Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Medio Rural y Marino. Archived from the original on 30 December 2008. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  6. Escuela de Hostelería de las Islas Baleares. "Gastronomía de Salamanca".
  7. Website of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Environment. "D.O.P Jabugo".
  8. "Normas reguladoras del jamón "D.O. Dehesa de Extremadura"."
  9. "Normas reguladoras del jamón "D.O. Jamón los Pedroches"."
  10. Smillie, Susan (18 January 2010). "World's most expensive ham?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  11. Limón, Raúl (7 March 2016). "The world's most expensive ham is from Huelva and costs €4,100 a leg". El País. ISSN 1134-6582. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  12. Navas, Sara (13 December 2017). "Los expertos alertan: el precio del jamón va a dispararse y estos son los dos motivos". El País (in Spanish). ISSN 1134-6582. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  13. Burgen, Stephen (26 November 2017). "Spaniards face ham shortage as Chinese market gets taste for jamón ibérico". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  14. Álvarez, Paz (13 February 2021). "La pandemia frena hasta los andares del cerdo ibérico". Cinco Días (in Spanish). Retrieved 24 January 2023.
  15. Núñez, Leticia (2 February 2014). "Que no te engañen con el jamón: la nueva ley que regula el ibérico se queda 'coja'". Vozpópuli (in European Spanish). Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  16. Burgen, Stephen (15 August 2020). "Fury in Spain at US plans to produce 'Iberian' ham in Texas and Georgia". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 August 2020.

Further reading

  • Barrenechea, Teresa. The Cuisines of Spain. Ten Speed Press, 2005. ISBN 1-58008-515-6.
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