Your pata negra ham may have nothing left to give but you can still do things with it, like making a delicious consommé or a flavorful sauce for a meat dish. The bone marrow and the bits of meat you can’t cut off the bone are tasty and nutritious (vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and more). Here is how to get it all with very little work and money.
Ingredients (for 1 liter of broth):
500 g of Iberico ham bones
2 liters water
1 leek or 1 small onion
250 g of squash
1 celery stalk
Optional: a little parsley, 2 bay leaves, a piece of turnip, half a cabbage, one pig’s foot and 500 grams of beef, lamb or chicken.
DO NOT ADD SALT. The bone contains some salt and it is best to wait until the broth is done before salting to taste.
The ham has several bones and it is best to locate the joints and cut the ligaments with a kitchen knife (photo 1). The biggest pieces can be cut with a saw or a cleaver.
Remove the skin from the pieces and leave a small amount of rancid fat (photo 2).
Cut up the vegetables (photo 3), place everything in a pot with cold water and cook over high heat until it comes to a boil. Then simmer over low heat for 2 to 4 hours (photo 4). The longer you leave it, the stronger it will be. Skim off any scum that forms (photo 5) every 60 minutes to reduce calories.
Finally, strain the broth (photo 6) and leave it to cool a few hours.
When it is at room temperature, put it in the refrigerator. After about 2-3 hours remove it and skim off the fat layer that will have formed on the surface (photo 7) to give a smoother broth that is easier to digest.
Strain it again with a strainer, or with a thin cloth (photo 8) if you like it very clear.
If you want a broth with more body, blend it with a beater for 2 minutes.
If you want less fat, add a beaten egg white to the broth about 15 minutes before removing it from the heat.
Add a handful of chickpeas, pasta or rice together with the bones and vegetables to get a smoother texture.
Brown stock (for meat stew and sauces)
The same as for consommé, plus:
200 ml red wine
Prepare exactly the same as the consommé but cook the ingredients (except the wine) in the oven before boiling. This will give a darker color and a slightly roasted flavor.
Place the cut bones in the oven at 180ºC and add the vegetables after 30 minutes. Remove the pan after another 15 minutes and place everything in a pot with cold water and wine.
Although traditionally pigs have always been reared in pens of a few square metres, zones with an abundance of acorns have also been very common grazing areas for pigs in the fall, coinciding with the falling of the fruit of the oak.
It was an inexpensive way to fatten the animals. There were thousands of hectares of pastures in Extremadura, the north of Andalucía (Huelva, Córdoba, Sevilla) and the south of Castilla y León (Salamanca, Ávila), some municipally owned (communal) and others private, but they offered the right to graze for very little money.
In fact, the existence of large tracts of oak forests is what has allowed the Iberian breed, the Pata Negra pig, not to become extinct. It is the breed of pig best adapted to the environment: agile, strong, able to travel long distances, go up and down hills, with substantial amounts of fat to survive the cold mountains of around 1,000 meters altitude. Most of the more commonly produced white pigs wouldn’t survive, so in these areas the Indigenous Iberian breeds resided.
Herding in current times
The swineherd (also called caregiver) has to control all the animals on a daily basis and identify any problems such as illness, boar attacks, or the quality and quantity of acorns and grass. They need to be extremely familiar with the farm (although it has hundreds of hectares) and know exactly to which areas he or she has to lead the animals. First, when pigs are still thin and agile, they will be led to higher altitudes. Later on in life they will stay on the plain.
Iberian pigs been herded from one area to another in a pasture on the border of Spain and Portugal.
The period of time the Iberian pig spend in the field (the montanera) is the most critical of the whole process of making a jamón de bellota. For 2, 3 or even 4 months, the pig must stay healthy and eat at a steady pace: not too much, not too little. If you overeat you lose mobility and develop excess fat. You don’t want it to walk a lot, let alone climb hills. The pig will just lie on the grass or mud until hungry again.
On the other hand, if a type of disease is not detected early enough it may affect the animal in a way that would make it lose hunger and consequently weight. And if when during recovery there aren’t enough acorns then there will be no choice but to feed and fatten them with fodder and its eventual market price will drop significantly. In addition there is also the risk of the epidemic spreading to the rest of the herd in just a few days.
Swineherd of Iberic pigs and caretaker of the pasturelands during the 2011 montanera period.
Unlike the shepherds and goatherds, during the montanera pig keepers will often go motorized. They don’t spend time with the animals, nor are they with them while they eat. They only look for them and lead them to the grazing area where they are to spend the day, and usually won’t find them again until sunset. The rest of the time is spent mainly on maintenance of the farm, such as repairing roads and hundreds of kilometres of stone walls that separate the grazing areas. It’s also critical to keep the pasture free of weeds and shrubs, which provide shelter to the vermin and other inhabitants of the pasture.
Pigs, unless they are very hungry, aren’t at all dangerous. They are more fearful of humans and usually don’t approach us. However, all swineherds tell the same story to children: that in his village a child entered a pigsty and pigs left nothing, not even the bones. It’s the gory version of what is officially called the Manual of Labour Risks and incidentally is much more convincing.
So far, only hams produced in Jabugo, such as Cinco Jotas, could carry this mark on its label. This left out a lot of producers in the same area (Sierra de Aracena), which could not benefit from the power of this brand although they still offered high quality Pata Negra ham with similar characteristics.
In favour of this change were the city of Jabugo itself, the Regulatory Council of the D.O and many residents and businesses within the swine industry. The main opposition was the Asociación Auténtico Jabugo (Jabugo Authentic Association) and two major manufacturers: Sánchez Romero Carvajal (Osborne Group), which is the manufacturer of Cinco Jotas, and Consorcio de Jabugo (Agrolimen Group).
From a consumer’s point of view, the change appears positive because it simplifies the product. Enough people have difficulty keeping up with the differences of race, food and the zone of production of pigs, and above all also need to know that Jamón de Jabugo is Jamón de Huelva, but that Jamón de Huelva can’t be considered as “de Jabugo”.
As for quality, the Regulatory Council will now have to ensure a much more valuable mark than previously, and should therefore put extra controls and filters in place in order to prevent a potentially huge disaster.
When will the change in D.O. come into effect?
It came into force last March. On August 1 2015 has been published in the Official Gazette of the Ministry published a resolution declaring it accepts the decision and the name change will come into effect, and on March 7 2017 the new name was entered in the Community Register of PDOs and PGIs.
The other day my friend Isabel told me that at home only her sister cuts the Pata Negra. Not her father or her mother or her grandfather… only her sister was brave enough to face the pig’s leg. They aren’t actually afraid of the knife, but the reproaches they’d receive from other diners: it’s sliced too thick, too thin, don’t forget the gristle, put a little elbow grease into it before we all starve, that’s not where the meat starts, you’re going to cut yourself… Family can be very cruel sometimes, as Julius Caesar found out more than 2000 years ago.
Not wanting to cause a familial breakdown, some choose to take the ham to the butcher for it to be sliced and packed. Not a bad idea, but it’ll start off great and the next thing you know you’re waiting for Santa Claus with a bacon cheeseburger in lieu of ham, polvorones and singing Christmas carols to a bottle of Anís del Mono.
Therefore, we take the bull by the horns and do it ourselves. The first thing to ask is whether we have the right tools. The knife is crucial, but you can buy a decent one anywhere. It must, of course, be sharpened occasionally because if it doesn’t it’ll become as harmless as a lamb.
What’s hardest to find – almost as difficult as finding an honest politician – is adequate support. Some professional ham cutters tune their jamoneras to improve performance and make the work safer and more comfortable. Some attach a rubber base to have a better grip to the table, others make do with a skewer that allows them to adjust the height of the tip (the side opposite to the hoof) and some daring individuals even patent and manufacture their own designs, such as the person from Malaga who devised this upright cross-sectional jamonero.
The experts know very well what they need: they do, after all, cut hundreds of hams every year. Some are even capable of slicing 36 hams in just 40 hours, more than most mere mortals cut in their lifetime. But all the amateurs out there, do you know what to look for when choosing a ham stand? Here are some tips and recommendations:
So the ham doesn’t move while cutting it, you need to make sure the base doesn’t slip off of the surface on which it’s resting. Despite not weight much, just 4 to 6 rubber studs would be more than sufficient to ensure adequate clamping (see photo 1). Good support helps us to avoid sudden movements and potential accidents, and to provide a fine cut.
There are two basic elements that make cutting more comfortable: the rotating grip and height adjustment.
The rotating grip on the trotter (see photo 2) allows you to change cutting zone very quickly without having to loosen or tighten the screw that secures the leg. Just loosen and adjust the screw that allows rotation of the inner ring, and when it’s in the desired position, retighten it; this is especially useful for professional cutters. These systems also tend to hold the part better and provide greater stability.
These systems are designed primarily for Pata Negra Bellota hams, which are usually 100% Iberian and therefore have a very narrow shank. With that said, 6cm in diameter is enough to pass the hoof and ankle through the hoop. If, on the contrary, you want to cut a serrano ham, you’d better choose another grip system if you don’t want to have surprises.
With height adjustment we can always cut the same way, regardless of the size of the piece or the part of the ham we are working on. It allows us to modify the inclination of the axis of the hoof-tip (see photo 3).
3. Storage and transportation
When the jamonero is intended only for occasional use, the ideal situation would be for it to occupy minimal space. In this sense, some models can fold the arm onto the base (see photo 4). This is also highly recommended for when we need to take it from one place to another.
Virtually all brackets costing €25-30 can last us a lifetime if we use it to only cut one or two hams a year. However, professionals need a stronger product that doesn’t show any aesthetic signs of deterioration (chips, appearance of rust, marks on wood, etc.).
Wood or steel boards are more resistant. They don’t usually break, even after a fall. Silestone or plastic based boards are more fragile. In contrast, silestone is not easily scratched and looks brand new when it’s been cleaned. Ham holders for sale at Ibergour (sorted by price):
Other less important considerations
Length of the base: Iberian hams usually measure about 90 cm and any of the above table brackets allow for a proper cut. However, restaurants and shops selling cut hams tend to prefer larger hams, from 9 to 12 kg, because they have a superior performance. Our recommendation in these cases is to opt for a fairly long base, because otherwise you’d have no support for the tip of the ham (the end opposite to the hoof) to be out of the holder.
Furthermore, the shorter the base, the steeper the ham. There are those who prefer it this way but usually it makes it a little more difficult to keep the cutting area flat.
Skewer: Many of the jamoneros have a spike on one end to hold the end of the ham that touches the base (see photo 5). While it’s useful in the shorter and lighter jamoneros it is not so essential in high-end ones as the subjection of the hoof is very good. In fact, many professionals do not like using a skewer because it maims that part of the ham, causing an air inlet that can affect the quality of meat in that area.
Cleaning: Plastic, silestone or steel bases are the easiest to clean. Wood always absorbs some fat which poses no hygienic risk, but it affects your appearance. Over time – and after a few hams – spots start appearing.
Price: Given the amount of a good ham, it’s not worth skimping on the jamonero or the knives, because the final result can be very different depending on their quality. Getting a fine cut and reduce the risk of injury is priceless.
In practice we can see that jamón de bellota is only produced in Spain and Portugal, but this has not always been the case and perhaps it won’t be in the future either.
Pigs are eating acorns in the forests bordering the Mediterranean Sea long before it was domesticated by humans. The oaks in drier region and the cork trees and oaks in wetter areas were very common until a couple of centuries ago.
In Homer’s Odyssey, the goddess and sorceress Circe turned Ulysses’ companions into swine and fed them acorns, which suggests that in Ancient Greece pigs were fed on the fruit of the oak.
In the 15th century, a famous manuscript called “Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry”, written in the central France, used a scene in which pigs are eating acorns in the forest (see the reproduction on the left) to illustrate the month of November. It’s a work by the painter Jean Colombre, dated between 1485 and 1486.
Marco, a reader of this blog, informs us that currently in France there are small amounts of pigs that feed on acorns on the island of Corsica and the department of Hautes Pyrénées and bordering regions near the Aragon Pyrenees.
Those in Corsica come from an autochthonous breed called Nustrale (or U Porcu Neru), a small and shaggy dark animal bred in freedom for nearly 2 years and also fed with chestnuts.
In the Pyrenees there is the black pig Bigorre (of the Gasconne breed), which was on the brink of extinction in the late 20th century. Our Pata Negra also went through a similar time of uncertainty during the 1970s.
However, after seeing the success and acceptance of Spanish Iberico ham, various producers in southern Italy (Naples, Sicily) are reviving ancient indigenous breeds related to Iberian pigs. The most prominent example is the Prosciutto Crudo di Maiale Nero Siciliano Monti Nebrodi, made from pigs bred in freedom and fed with chestnut and acorns in mountainous pastures of northern Sicily.
In Morocco, on the northern slopes of the Atlas, it’s also easy to find oaks and forest similar to Iberian pastures. The tree bark is used in making dyes for clothes (one of the main economic activities of the country) and acorns can be purchased in local markets for human consumption. Muslims do not eat pork and therefore there are no ham manufacturers there today, but if the demand for this product is still increasing we shouldn’t rule out that some producers will begin using this part of Africa to fatten their stock.
Overseas Serrano Ham
Recently there has been several news stories concerning cured ham production in China and warned that the ham curing industry could suffer a similar relocation which has already taken place in other industries.
It is no secret that Asians are jamón enthusiasts. They have learned the Spanish and Italian techniques and have begun to produce it from white pigs. In a recent article in La Vanguardia, a researcher at the University of Córdoba stated that soon they will begin to use Iberico pigs.
It may not be good news for the producers of jamón de cebo (made from pigs fed with fodder), although right now production in China barely reaches 1% of that of Spain. Manufacturers of Iberian ham can rest easy, because playing such a complex ecosystem as the Mediterranean pasture is very difficult, although the Spanish entrepreneurs behind AcornSeekers claim to have achieved just that in Texas (USA), and expect to flood the American market with fresh meat and “Made in USA” Pata Negra hams.
These days it seems that other additives used by most manufacturers generate more fear or distrust in consumers: preservatives, antioxidants, acidity regulators … This article will try to explain why they are used and what the associated health risks are.
Salt is the oldest known preservative and without it meat would rot. It’s also a flavour enhancer: we tend to find that ham with less than 2.5% salt is tasteless and with an unpleasant texture.
Pata negra ham (jamón ibérico) has the least salt content of them all (between 2.5% to 4.5%). It’s followed by Serrano ham (5%), Bayonne ham (5.5%) and Parma ham (5.7%). Credit goes to genetics in this case: the marbling fat and higher pH level in Iberico hams hinders the penetration of the salt.
When compared with other types of products, it would be at the same level as Roquefort cheese or olives.
As we mentioned in the introduction, it’s been proven that excess salt increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (hypertension, heart attacks, etc.) but it’s also thought to cause kidney failure and osteoporosis.
The most commonly used preservatives are potassium nitrate (E-250) and sodium nitrite (E-252). Nitrates and nitrites have been used for hundreds of years and play an important role in ensuring the microbiological safety (especially protecting consumers from botulism) of foodstuffs.
The European Food Safety Agency limits the maximum amount of sodium nitrite to 100mg/kg and potassium nitrate to 150mg/kg (Directive 2006/52 /EC). It is such a low amount that the formation of potentially carcinogenic nitrosamines is negligible. Furthermore, jamón isn’t a product that has to be cooked, so that the high temperatures needed to display said compound (130ºC) wouldn’t be reached. In this sense a much more dangerous meat would be, for example, bacon, as it is a product with a short maturation period and cooked at high temperatures (150-190°C).
These two compounds, in addition to protect us from certain bacteria, also influence the colour and aroma. The meat becomes slightly redder and the smell of curing overpowers any rancid aromas.
Almost all producers use one, or both, of these preservatives with some exceptions being Joselito hams and the organic hams (also known as ecological). This commitment to the elimination of additives requires them to exercise extreme control of the curing process, especially during the first 3 months, which is when there is more risk of microbiological contamination. On the other hand, these pieces tend to have a longer maturation period of between six months to a year. The more dehydrated the ham, the harder it is for bacteria to grow.
The effect on the colour is not essential in the case of Iberian ham, as the high content of zinc in this type of meat is the main guarantor of its reddish coloration, and so it doesn’t need the coloration effects of the preservatives.
However, in Italy they have eliminated all additives in Parma ham and San Daniele for quite some time now (except salt, of course). And in Switzerland the use of sodium nitrite (E-252) is not allowed under any circumstances.
Sodium ascorbate (E-301) is often added to reduce the adverse effects caused by preservatives, as it reduces the generation of nitrosamines. It’s considered harmless, but consuming more than 10mg per day can cause diarrhoea and kidney stones.
Sodium citrate (E-331-iii) is completely harmless and there are no set daily limits on how much is safe to ingest. It serves to regulate the pH (acidity) and to strengthen the role of antioxidants.
Sugar (or lactose, which is the sugar found in milk)
Although often used in sausages, it’s rarely used in ham and serves to mask the bitter, stale notes.
In short, the most harmful additive used in ham is salt. If we were to share an 80g serving with one other person, we will have ingested between 1 and 2g of salt, which is between 20% and 40% of the recommended daily amount, more or less the same as if we were to eat 125g of bread (half a baguette, for example). What can I say? I would rather stop eating bread and eat a whole tapa of Pata Negra ham.
As an adult, ham is a luxury, like chocolate, for example. In other words, it does not provide any essential nutrients or ones that cannot be obtained from other, less salty, foods. It gives us pleasure, which is no small thing, but we can completely do without it. Therefore, the first thing you can do is eat less of it. As discussed in a previous article, experts recommend eating cured ham no more than 2 or 3 times a week.
You can buy sliced ham or shoulder in 100 g packages, which makes it easier to practice portion control than having the whole ham in the kitchen, which seems like it’s telling you, “Come on, cut and serve yourself a little ham, I’m just sitting here”.
2. Switch to bellota ham
You can take what you save by eating less and use it to buy higher-quality ham. Bellota ham has less salt and healthier fat than serrano ham, so you’re killing two birds with one stone.
3. Cut back on salt in other foods
One idea I got from my parents is that on the day they have ham, they add less or no salt to other parts of the meal such as salad, fish, soup, etc. This way, they don’t exceed the recommended amount for that day.
Just like when you have lentils for the first course, you eat something low in protein for the second course, you can choose foods that have less salt and fat. Fortunately, all the packages now list the percentage of sodium per 100 grams.
4. Eat it with foods rich in potassium
This mineral counteracts some of the harmful effects of salt on blood pressure and is present in citrus (oranges), grapes, carrots, potatoes, spinach, etc.
5. Don’t smoke and drink less alcohol and coffee
Ham pairs perfectly with drinks such as beer. Beer has a much lower alcohol content than wine, which is what typically accompanies Iberian Jamon Pata Negra.
Tobacco and coffee, besides potentially causing sudden increases in blood pressure, are natural enemies of ham: They overpower its flavor and aroma.
Let ham be the prize for that time spent at the gym or that walk through the park that is slightly longer than usual. Both your arteries and your taste buds will thank you.
On the other hand, the demonization of salt as it relates to hypertension has often been questioned in recent years. It seems that “if you have hypertension, moderate your salt intake” is a very simplistic view and that the reality is much more complex, as explained in detail in this article (in Spanish) and in another article of The Guardian.
In all seriousness, it’s worth taking note of this advice and keep enjoying pata negra ham, which has many benefits for your mind and body. It is a source of happiness and especially during the holidays, a big part of our culture.
It is unusual for a customer to explain why they buy jamón de bellota. We mostly assume it is simply because Pata Negra is great. But there are several customers who have told us that they buy ham because of how little they feel hungry and it helps them to boost their appetite.
For most of us gluttony is a problem, but there are some who need to stimulate their appetite because their lack of appetite causes them important nutritional deficiencies. Some medical treatments, such as chemotherapy to cure cancer, cause nausea and lack of appetite. Also stress, the deficit of some minerals and various digestive disorders are associated with reluctance. There seems that there are even some people with a sense of permanent satiety that makes them hate food.
So we thought it would be interesting to find out the reasons why Iberian ham, and especially de bellota, is so appealing even in adverse conditions. Here are the findings:
Why jamón de bellota increases the appetite
It’s delicious and healthy The first thing recommended to stimulate the appetite is to eat what you like. That is, what you most enjoy. If you have a medical prescription to avoid fatty products, remove the fat and eat only lean. Pure Iberian ham (Pata Negra), such as Cinco Jotas Ham from Jabugo, is usually fattier than ham from mixed breed pigs, but the difference is minimal. However, the level of healthy oleic acid tends to be higher than what is found in mixed breed. Our recommendation: pure bred.
It’s associated with good memories In most of our homes, jamón de bellota, is eaten only during large celebrations: dinners on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, weddings, christenings, communions… The memory of these good moments enjoying a ham in the best company opens up our appetite.
The smell is mild and pleasant Unlike other foods, such as cheese or seafood, the smell of ham is very subtle. Strong odours can sometimes cause rejection, and therefore are not recommended in these cases. So, it is best consumed unheated at room temperature so as to prevent the smell getting stronger. Serrano ham, if it has had a minimum maturation period of 18 months, also has pleasant and toasty aromas. But if the curing period is anything less than 12 months it still smells a little like fresh meat and is not so appetizing.
It doesn’t fill you up because it doesn’t contain fibre Fibre, present above all in vegetables (1.5% in lettuce) and cereals (2.2% in brown rice), is essential for a balanced diet but is very filling (it produces gases) and can be difficult to digest.
The high zinc content helps regulate digestion This mineral is necessary, among other things, to regulate digestion and prevent loss of appetite. It is mainly found in protein-rich foods such as pork, and some seafood.
It’s very quick to prepare Poor appetite coupled with lack of time leads to some people skipping breakfast, lunch or dinner. With ham there are no excuses: you open the fridge, take out a packet with already sliced ham inside. It’s also great for snacking, allowing you to distribute food intake and reduce the size of main meals (some people can’t manage a full plate).
There are other natural remedies that help to ignite your appetite, such as mint infusions, anise or liquorice. There are also medicines and drugs, like those derived from cannabis (marijuana and hashish) which act directly on brain receptors that trigger appetite. But it’s clear that, as delicious as Iberico jamón de bellota is, nothing has been invented so far.
You start cutting into a Pata Negra ham and all you seem to get is fat and more fat. You look at the plate and calculate that there’s already about a kilo there… £50 or £60 destined straight for the bin. It’s not a good start.
At last, the first streaks of meat appear. Their glossy shine gets your saliva glands working, and when you finally eat the first slices you start seeing things differently.
But is there really too much fat in acorn-reared ham? Has it always been like this?
There are 3 reasons behind the increase in external fat in acorn-reared (bellota) Iberico ham:
Purity of the breed: The current trend is to use the more pure-bred animals for the high-end range. They produce better quality meat and enjoy more substantial official protection (only hams from 100% Iberian pigs can be called Pata Negra). But these pigs are characterized by significant fat stores in the outer part of the muscle, while the intramuscular streaks are much finer than in Duroc pigs.
Longer curing times: The widespread consumption of Iberico ham is a very recent phenomenon – since just 15 or 20 years ago. As José Bello Gutiérrez says in his book Jamón curado: Aspectos científicos y tecnológicos [Cured Ham: Scientific and Technological Aspects], during the last quarter of the 20th century it was more common to eat Serrano ham from white pigs nourished on fodder and bred deliberately to minimize fat. It wasn’t just a question of price. People also thought it was healthier, even if it meant reducing the organoleptic quality of the product. As a consequence, the ham we normally ate during the 20th century was cured for no more than 1 or 2 years and was very lean.
Salt reduction: Consumers (especially in Europe) want products with low salt content. It improves the flavour and is much healthier. But when salt levels are reduced, other elements need to be introduced to protect the ham from organisms that could make it go off. For example, improving sanitary conditions and ensuring cold chain guarantees (crucial during the first months of curing).
Several studies (for example Gou, 1998) have shown that fat slows down the penetration of salt into the middle of the ham because salt diffuses less well than through fat than lean meat. So, the more fatty tissue the ham has, the longer it will take for the salt to reach the meat. Unfortunately, most of the fat will be inedible because it will have oxidized and turned rancid over the years.
Finally, the ham’s own sweat helps: the external fat impregnates all the surface pores as it melts, forming a protective film.
Acorn-reared ham yields roughly 40-45% meat. That means that of a £500 ham, around £300 will end up in the bin. That might seem like a lot, but it’s similar to the yield of other common consumer products like sole (40%), mussels (35%) or nuts (45%).
Do big hams contain a higher proportion of meat?
Yes, they do. That’s why restaurants tend to prefer larger hams of more than 8 or 9 kg.
The reason is that the weight of the bone, the hoof, the skin and the external fat is basically the same for large and small hams. Larger hams are from pigs that put on more weight, but their underlying skeleton is very similar.
But be careful: sometimes that extra weight isn’t because the pig was allowed to eat acorns for longer, but because it was fed on fodder. That means the product is lower quality. In the industry this is known as remate (finishing) and, as you’d expect, it is not permitted by the current law regulating Ibérico ham (formerly it was permitted for hams classified as Recebo, meaning fed on fodder and acorns).
More than one would draw a blank when challenged to explain Iberian ham, what it tastes like and what it can be compared with to somebody unfamiliar with it. If asking an ordinary citizen to describe its flavour following his gustatory experience, the safest would be to make reference to the lightly salty touch, to cured meat and to nuts. And it would fall short; it would be vague and incomplete. In this explanation it’s difficult to define the nuances that would be lost on those not particularly used to it. Because, what do you really know about Pata Negra? What makes it so tasty and long-lasting on the palate?
Our whole lives we have been taught in school thatthe four flavours are sweet, salty, sour and bitter. However, in the early twentieth century the Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda identified a new concept which he called umami (literally, “delicious taste” in Japanese). This new flavour, unclassifiable as any of the other four, is closely related to the presence of certain amino acids in food: glutamic acid and ribonucleic. The combination of both in foods and recipes also helps to enhance the flavour of the ingredients that compose them. Umami is found in foods such as kombu seaweed, tomatoes, mushrooms, Parmesan, salted anchovies or cured meat.
Kikunae Ikeda (photo from Wikipedia) summarized the taste of jamón de bellota in one word.
Molecular theories aside, the named “fifth taste” is characterized by prolonging the pleasant aftertaste and producing salivation. It would come to be something as abstract and sensory as the impression of the exquisite, the perception of the tasty, a potentiation of good taste, but taste itself. Pata negra ham has had the privilege of being one of the foods listed as umami and thus has become part of the Olympus of flavours. The Ikedia hypothesis, ratified by subsequent studies, gives an acceptable explanation, scientifically speaking, of the king’s unconventional taste of Spanish cuisine.
Perhaps everything has its scientific proof and it’s a matter of pure chemistry, but for those who are not experts in molecular chemistry and live in conceptual ignorance and trust in the truth of our taste buds, we will retain the magic of tasting Iberian jamón de bellota and we experience the inexplicably and unclassifiable delicious taste.
Discover the umami in Iberic and serrano hams of Ibergour.ie