Iberico ham, otherwise known as Jamon Iberico, is a highly prized cured meat that is native to the “Iberian Peninsula” of Spain and Portugal.
Spain is renowned as a hub of gastronomy and you’ll find Iberico ham on the menu of any esteemed restaurant in the country. It’s enjoyed by citizens and tourists alike with its bold flavour, impressive colouring, clustered marbling, and eyebrow-raising price tag.
Much like Wagyu beef, Iberico ham is produced in very small batches by speciality farmers rearing a very select breed of animal. Iberico Ham is also produced only in a small number of districts within the Iberian Peninsula and is actually protected by the European Protected Designation of Origin system. This means that it can only be labelled as Iberico Ham if it’s produced in this incredibly small area.
Of course, being produced in small batches in a small area by career-long farmers rearing a very select breed of pig is going to drive up the price tag but that’s not all, not by a longshot.
Another reason why the ham has such a hefty price tag is that actually raising the pigs to the ripe old age of 15 months while adhering to the “Iberico” rules is extremely expensive for the farmers.
The pigs that will eventually turn into Iberico ham are strictly free-range raised which requires a huge amount of land. There are actually laws stating that you cannot raise any more than two pigs per hectare of farmland which drives the price of production up massively. We mentioned how Iberico ham producing pigs are fed a special diet and that diet is made up of acorns, olives, and free-range forage. So we have expensive feed on expensive land producing a pretty pricey pig so far.
Another reason for Ibericos eye-watering price tags is just how long it takes to produce the meat. The pigs are reared until about 15 months which is slightly longer than average for a pig but nothing too absurd, the real time is taken up by the ageing process.
The legs of pork go through a salting stage which can last from 15 to 20 days. Salt penetrates the meat deeply and starts to cure. From there, the legs are moved to a specialised, climate-controlled ageing room where they will spend the next 8 to 11 months. If you thought that was a long time then you would be right but, for Iberico, that’s small peanuts.
Finally, after the initial salting and aging, the legs are moved to a cellar where they will be stored and aged for an average of 4 whole years. In total, from pig to plate, the process takes around 5 years. That’s a long time to wait for dinner.
A record for a single leg of Iberico is currently $4,500 and just three ounces of the luxurious meat can set you back about £20 so be prepared to oil the hinges of your wallet when it comes time to sit down to a plate of this premium pork.
It takes a long time to bring pig to plate. Everything from the breed of pig, its diet, the strict laws around its upbringing, the laboratory level quality control, and even the skills necessary to slice the cured ham are all key to providing the best quality meat possible.
The ultimate result is a long, thin leg of ham with a deep golden hue to its fat. The meat is dark red and well-marbled with intramuscular fat that is the source of this hams incredible flavour.
It is served in paper-thin slices on a warm plate that allows the delicate fats of the ham to actually start to melt.
When you taste Iberico ham for the first time, it is quite the event with a complex flavour that is both bold yet subtly covers the tongue, it has a certain sweetness to it but retains a savoury twang. The meat has deep nutty notes derived from the pig's acorn heavy diet and, even though the leg spent almost a year in salt, the salty taste was there but by no means commanding.
Iberico Ham is a delicacy that is produced in incredibly small batches after literal years of processing with literal centuries of history and culture behind it. To eat it must surely be a privilege and an event to be savoured almost as much as the meat itself. If you are presented with the chance to taste Iberico Ham, you almost owe it to yourself to lunge at the opportunity but be warned that, after you taste Iberico Pork, that ham sandwich on Monday probably won’t cut it.