It should be considered a crime to visit Spain and not sample Jamon Iberico. It is simply delicious! Long, golden legs of ham can been seen in carnicerias (meat shops) all over Spain, but especially in the Andalucia (Southern Spain). The meat is one of Spain's most treasured delicacies and exports.
But what exactly is Jamon Iberico and what makes it so special?
Jamon Iberico is made the same way as Serrano Ham, but comes from a different pig--the black Iberian pig. These animals are the original swine of Spain. This hog has a great capacity to accumulate fat with veins running through the muscle and large layers around the ham area allowing the hams to be cured for longer periods of time, resulting in a much more intense flavor.
The finest Jamon Iberico is called Jamon Iberico de Bellota (acorn). Iberian pigs love acorns. Those destined to be Bellota hams are released into the dehesa (oak forest) for several months prior to their sacrifice. The exercise in foraging combined with the acorn diet significantly impacts the flavor of the meat.
After matanza (sacrifice), the fatty legs are packed in sea salt and hung to dry in the cool winter air for several weeks followed by a curing time of two to four years.
Jamon Iberico was illegal in America up until 2005 because there were no USDA approved slaughterhouses in Spain. Fortunately for us, we began receiving our first shipments of the delicacy by the end of 2007. Now, we can enjoy this Spainish treat at home. The ham can be found in specialty grocers and websites like La Tienda.