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Iberian cured ham

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A culinary treasure of Spain

Spain is full of culinary treasures, and one of them is Iberian ham. It’s one of the treasures of the Mediterranean diet, and a luxury haute cuisine ingredient. Everything contributes to making it delicious, from the region where it’s made to the way it’s cut.

Discover Iberian cured ham

If you visit Spain, be sure to try a good plateful of Iberian ham. Any time of day is a good time to enjoy ham. Before lunch as a tapa, as a first course, or an appetiser before dinner. Or perhaps by going to a tasting, like the ones held in Triana market in Seville, or one of the wine and Iberian ham tours organised in Madrid. Another option is to visit a tasting workshop and discover all the secrets of slicing ham, while sampling freshly cut slices, or if you want to know even more, finding out all about the farming and curing processes on a culinary tour of the regions on the Ham Routes.

Paradise with added ham

The dehesas make up a unique ecosystem, and an example of how humans and nature can coexist in sustainable development. These vast pasturelands, in several Spanish regions, are inhabited by a huge variety of plants and animals. They are wonderful places to visit, where you can enjoy the landscape and see the whole process of making ham. There are four main Jamón Ibérico routes, depending on the Designation of Origin: Guijuelo, Dehesa de Extremadura, Jamón de Huelva, and Los Pedroches. Guijuelo DOP ham is one of the most famous designations of origin, perhaps because it was the first to be created. It is produced in several municipalities in south-east Salamanca province, especially in the town of Guijuelo. As this is the northernmost of the ham-making regions, the cool, dry climate means the hams are softer and fattier than in the other areas. Dehesa de Extremadura DOP ham will only accept pigs raised in this region, and production centres on the dehesas of holm oaks and cork oak in Cáceres and Badajoz. Ham from Extremadura is notable for its distinctive, delicious aroma and its fine texture.

Iberico breed pigs in the dehesa of Higuera la Real, Extremadura

Jabugo DOP ham, formerly known as “Huelva ham”, is made in the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche Natural Park, and in several villages in Huelva province, such as Cumbres Mayores, Cortegana, Encinasola and Jabugo - this last is one of the most famous ham producing towns in Spain, and the designation of origin is named for it. Los Pedroches DOP is the most recent designation of origin, awarded in 2006. This is a protected Designation of Origin, so the Iberico breed pigs must be raised, and the ham must be cured, only in the valley of Los Pedroches, in the north of Cordoba province. It is easy to recognise because the hams are longer and more slender than in the other regions.

Views of Cortegana, Huelva

How to spot a good quality ham

The main factor in the history of this food is the Iberico breed of pigs. This is a native breed which over the years has developed the characteristics which make it so unique. The pigs are raised on the dehesas, where they graze and move freely, which also affects the end product, unlike pigs raised in conventional farming.There are different categories of Iberian ham, depending on the pig’s place of origin and diet, which are marked by a colour code. The white label indicates that the pig breed is Iberico, but it has been raised in conventional farming and fed commercial feed. The green label means that the pig breed is Iberico and it has grazed freely on the dehesa, and it has been fed additional natural fodder. The red identifies ham from mixed breed pigs which have been raised on acorns. black label is reserved for the highest quality products, the so-called “jamones pata negra”, from pure Iberico breed, acorn-fed pigs.

Plate of ham