Choosing the right Spanish ham for your table is not an easy task since there are many types of Spanish hams to select from. There are the main categories of Serrano, Ibérico and Ibérico de Bellota, along with a wide variety of subcategories.
The quality and taste of the ham depends on lots of factors. Below are some of the important criteria based on which the ham quality is categorized.
- Kind of pig that produced the ham
- What the pig is fed on
- Part of the pig that has been used as the source of the ham
- The curing process of the ham itself
There are also separate grades given to the pigs based on their weight and diet.
Bellota Grade: This grade of pigs comes into the last stage with weights between eighty to hundred kgs (175 to 220 lbs) but the hams shed almost sixty percent of their initial weight during extended curing. They live a free ranging life enjoying a diet of grass and acorns.
Recebo Grade: Almost the same as the Bellota graded pigs except the pigs here do not consume enough acorns to meet requirements of Bellota designation.
Campo Grade: Ibérico pigs that live a normal pig life eating grains.
Where The Spanish Hams Come From
Extremadura and Andalucía are the main ham producing parts of Spain where the Ibérico pig variety comes from. The pigs lucky enough to become Bellota hams are left free to graze on thousands of hectors of land on the dehesa rangeland.
Three important terms that are important to understand are Jabugo, Bellota and Pata Negra. Jabugo is simply an important ham town in Huelva that is the headquarters of Cinco Jotas, which was the first Ibérico ham company to become internationally known. For this reason many people know Jamón Ibérico de Bellota as simply 'Jabugo.'
Bellota literally means acorn in Spanish, and refers to hams made from pigs that enjoyed a diet of grasses and acorns throughout the finishing period (or montanera), since they graze in the woodland meadow called the dehesa. Bellota is an official designation that must be certified by the governing Denomination of Origin.
Pata Negra simply means 'black hoof' and refers to the distinctive hoof of the black Ibérico pig. This is a sure way to distinguish an Ibérico ham from the more common Jamón Serrano, which has a white hoof.