Why does Jamon Iberico lead the top 4 world’s finest foods list? The honorable list defines foie, caviar, truffle and jamon iberico as the four gastronomic pearls.
What makes jamón ibérico so special compared to other pork hams such as the adorable proscioutto di parma or the sweety French porc noir gascon? These are the 5 reasons that make this cured Spanish ham unique:
The dehesa ecosystem is the result of human action in the Mediterranean forest over thousands of years, and it is a savannah-like open woodland. The first anthropic action was the clearing of initial oak and pine forests around 4500 BP to introduce livestock. This unique environment is the most singular and characteristic landscape of the Iberian Peninsula and this ecosystem gives us an example in sustainability, as the ultimate proof that human development is not incompatible with conservation.
Jamón iberico is a ham from an extraordinary pig that races his lineage back to the time of the cavemen. The Cerdo Ibérico (Iberian pig) has quite a different and singular DNA than the meat of run-of-the mill pink pigs you are used to buying: it has the capacity to transform the acorns and the rest of foods that make up their diet – their diet is based on herbs and grasses – in heart-healthy fats. That’s why in Spain we popularly call them the four-legged olive oil.
But remember, this combination of genetics and diet only comes to full fruition in Jamón Ibérico de Bellota – hams made from Ibérico pigs that lived part of their lives feasting on acorns in the oak forests of the Dehesa.
Can anything this wonderful be this healthy? Absolutely. The fat of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota ham contains over 55% oleic acid (a mono-unsaturated fatty acid). The total proportion of unsaturated fatty acids in cured Iberico hams that have consumed a diet of acorns is over 75%, making it the most “cardiohealthy” of all animal fats, even healthier than some fats of plant origin. Its great contribution of vitamins B1, B6, B12, its antioxidant power, its ability to lower bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and its high content in Omega 9 make it unique.
If you think that there are only four flavors – sweet, salty, bitter and acid – know that there is a fifth. It is called umami, which literal translation from the Japanese would be “pleasant, savory taste” or “yummy”. Umami is responsible for exalting your taste buds! The umami flavor comes from an amino acid named monosodium glutamate, which can be naturally found in some food proteins; one of them is the unmistakable acorn-fed Iberian ham.
The purebred Iberico pig survival depends on a limited resource, acorns. An oak tree can produce, on average, about 20 kilos of annual acorns, therefore to ensure sufficient food strict guidelines apply, and a minimum of 1 hectare per pig is required. But most of the best producers offer two hectares of free pasture per animal to guarantee their “happy pigs” can satisfy their savory diet (a pork will eat about 750 kg of acorns during the period of montanera)
For those who want to learn more about the Spanish delicacy, you can check here our Jamón Ibérico guide and learn how to recognize A 100% Iberian acorn-fed ham, how to store it and some tasting tips.