Keys to Identifying a Good Jamón Ibérico

Jamón Ibérico is one of the best gastronomic products of Spain. Although the sales increase during Christmas time, it is eaten all throughout the year. This product of exquisite quality is intimately related with our culinary culture. It comes from Iberian pigs, and in order for it to be considered Jamón Ibérico, it has to be at least 50% pure. Of course, those of the highest quality are the hams that are 100% Iberian.

When buying Jamón Ibérico, you should hesitate and think twice before you go through with the transaction, but do not worry. It is helpful to keep in mind a few keys to distinguish a good Jamón Ibérico from one that is not so great. To keep from being duped, take note in the following tricks.

The Label for Jamón Ibérico

What will help the most is to look at the label that since 2014 is obligatory for all Jamones Ibéricos. On this you can find the name (jamón or paleta), the diet, and the type of pig. To make thing even more clear, we will explain every one of the types of labels:

  • Negra: ham of the highest quality, whose pigs are 100% Iberian, fed with acorns in a pasture. They are the only ones that can be called Pata Negra ham.
  • Roja: They produce mixed-breed pigs that are 75% or 50% Iberian, with a diet of acorns and raised in a pasture.
  • Verde: Jamón Ibérico (it could be 100%, 75%, or 50% Iberian) that was fed with regular animal feed and kept free range or in an outdoor pen.
  • Blanco: Jamón Ibérico (it could be 100%, 75%, or 50% Iberian) that was fed with industrial animal-feeds in a farm with limited movement.

The Hoof

You have to keep in mind the color of the hoof. If it is black, it is of better quality (Pata Negra), although you have to be careful because certain breeds are genetically modified to have this color. It is best to check if the hoof is worn out (an indication that the animal was allowed to graze freely) and measure the diameter of the ankle (the smaller the ankle, the purer the breed and quality).

The size matters because an excessively fat ham isn’t good (even though we said it should be well-fed). The Iberian pigs were free to wander, and therefore they are long and slim.

The Origin of the Jamón Ibérico

The origin is very important. The ham is very closely related to the ecosystem, and in the meadows of Salamanca (D.O Guijuelo), Extremadura (D.O Dehesa de Extremadura), Huelva (D.O Jabugo) and Córdoba (D.O Los Pedroches) one finds the Iberian pigs with the highest quality diet. The acorn-fed Jamón Ibérico of the Sierra de Sevilla is another that has an unmistakable taste.

The Texture of the Fat

The texture of the fat is also a factor you should keep in mind when selecting a piece. If you press down on the surface with your thumb (without excessive pressure) and slide it and you see that it sinks with ease, it is the acorn-fed ham. This is due to the fat generated from eating acorns. The fat that comes from animal-feed is harder. With the pre-cut ham you should also note that the fat of the acorn ham almost disappears with the heat in the palm of your hand. Contrarily, the ham which is not purely Iberian will not do this.

Where you find the fat is also important. The acorn-fed pigs have fat between the muscles, and those that were fed animal feed have fat distributed through the muscle. This means that the good ham will not have many veins, while the others will have much more. The veins contain oleic acid, which is very good for the heart.

Color and Price

Who hasn’t seen packaged ham from major brands that are almost transparent? The color factor is indispensable when it comes to choosing a good Jamón Ibérico. The intensity of the color of the ham corresponds to a longer curing time.

Another trick is to be suspicious of insanely low prices. The acorn-fed Jamón Ibérico is of the highest quality, therefore, stay away from the ham that is excessively cheap. For example, an acorn-fed Jamón Ibérico between 7.5 kg (16.5 lbs.) and 8.5 kg (18.7 lbs.) should cost around 155-190 euros (0-0). For the most part, an acorn-fed Jamón Ibérico should cost between 250-300 euros (0-5).

How Do You Store the  Jamón Ibérico?

For how long the ham is good depends on its quality and the conditions to which it is exposed. There are some who consider the best way to store a Jamón Ibérico is to cover it with a cotton cloth or with its own fat. If you are going to eat it immediately, this is a good option, but after a long time, the cloth will absorb the fat and it can transfer certain odors to the ham. The fat produced from a pig that was fed animal-feed spoils quicker. Therefore, many experts simply advise that you cover the pig in plastic wrap.

Another option is to ask for a professional to cut the ham and keep it in bags. This way, if you are going to cut it more, you can cut it by hand instead of with a machine. You notice the difference.

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