With multiple genetic variants, swine is found in all areas of the world; but the Iberian pig, indigenous to Spain, is a unique species. These animals, characterized by its breed’s purity roam freely through open pastures, and their special diet is based on acorns and compound feed. Their hind-legs are the animal’s most valuable part, famous for a high-quality ham whose curing or drying process usually lasts up to 36 months. Read more about gastronomy, gourmet products and wine.
The Iberian ham —also known as pata negra (black hoof) — can only be made using Iberian pigs. This delicacy is distinguished from other ham varieties for its unique texture, aroma and flavor, the result of a natural diet of acorns that fall from the oaks in the meadows.
The Iberian pig’s fat contains more than 55 percent oleic acid (monounsaturated) because it is a very active and restless animal. According to studies, these fats that infiltrate their lean meat are beneficial to human health because of their effect on the blood´s cholesterol rate, promoting an increase of good cholesterol (HDL) and reducing bad cholesterol (LDL). Only virgin olive oil has a higher content of oleic acid. A moderate consumption will not hurt a low-calorie diet because 3.5 ounces of this ham provide less than 250 calories. It is also an excellent substitute for red meat, since 3.5 ounces contain 43 grams of protein. As for its price, a whole leg of the best Iberian ham costs approximately $1,000.
Along with government agencies, some Spanish regions with a tradition of ham production created the strict designations of origin, that require Iberian acorn ham to faithfully comply with the rules to attain membership in this select group and carry its hallmark. These designations of origin are Huelva, Los Pedroches, Guijuelo and Dehesa de Extremadura. In general, the hams endorsed by The Designation of Origin have an elongated and stylized shape, and maintain their hoof. .
Most culinary experts agree that the Iberian ham is the most exquisite delicacy that Spain offers to the world. It is delicious enjoyed by itself, in small and very thin slices always cut by expert hands. Ideally, it should be consumed at a temperature between 64 and 75º F. The marbling literally melts in the mouth, allowing the palate to salivate slowly and detect a taste and texture difficult to explain to anyone who has not tried a real and genuine pata negra. ■