Jamón Ibérico

“El cerdo Ibérico” is not the pink chubby character of Looney Tunes, but a big black hairless hog with a long snout and spindly legs. Even its hooves are black, giving us the phrase, “pata negra” at “la charcutería”.

Its domestication began during the Neolithic period and by the time of the Roman Empire, la scrofa domestica had become a documented part of the local diet. During La Reconquista, especially the 13th Century, farmers fenced off their land from marauding nomads. The defense of these areas led to the term, “la dehesa”. Technically translated as “pasture” or meadow,” it is an entire ecosystem centered around the Holm and Cork Oak Trees.


Montanera en una dehesa extremeña

The large branches provide the shade for the goats, cattle and sheep that graze in the spring and summer, the wood for fires in winter and the sap for cork. But it is the acorn, “la bellota”, that falls to the ground in autumn which gives the Iberian pig its black hoof and unique taste.

Bigger and rounder than its Serrano cousin; young, neutered and spayed; male and females, are released in October to forage la dehesa for these antitoxin rich acorns. “La montanera” (the fattening) comes to an end by February and if the pigs have doubled in size, it was a good year.

“La matanza” is the time of sacrifice. Traditionally the entire family chips in to preserve the meat. Chorizo, salchichón and morcilla sausages are made then and there, choice cuts set aside for dinner. The fatty legs, both front and back, are packed in sea salt and hung to dry for a few weeks, the windows open, to let the wintry mountain air seep into the skin and muscles below.

Superficie de dehesa en España

  1. Extremadura: 1.237.000 hectáreas.
  2. Andalucia: 946.482 hectáreas.
  3. Castilla La Mancha: 751.554 hectáreas.
  4. Castilla y León: 467.759 hectáreas.
  5. Madrid: 113.051 hectáreas.

The arrival of spring and summer makes the salted ham sweat, bacteria slipping from the legs of ham. The meat dehydrates, then chills with coming autumn and winter. The original heft of the pig means that it can go through this annual curing process two times, often more. All the while saturated fat drips from the hanging legs which are now half the size.

The antitoxins in the acorn diet are never lost and become one with the dark red meat. The fat in the white veins, not the type to clog the arteries, but to cleanse them as it is packed with HDL cholesterol and oleic acid. The taste, no longer bland pork in need of mint sauce or a fryer, but jamón, eaten raw to savor the textures and flavors, a glass of beer or wine to whet the palate before another chewy bite.

Learn the language needed to order meat at a market, then see them put into action in our game, “Paco Says”.