On a whim, one day I bought a relatively expensive package of Spanish ham labeled jamón Ibérico de bellota, and my view of ham was transformed. I had tried prosciutto, jambon cru, and jamón Serrano, but never before had I tried jamon Iberico, and boy was I in for a surprise:
|Jamon Iberico de bellota (from cervezayjamon.com)|
Since then, I have gone out of my way to have more jamon Iberico de bellota, and to learn more about it (mainly from Wikipedia, as usual -- lazy, I know, I should use primary sources). Jamon Iberico is sometimes called pata negra ("black hoof"), which also references the breed used for jamon Iberico, called the black Iberian pig. This breed of pig is prized for its intramuscular fat (those lovely white streaks in the ham pictured above) and likes to graze in forested pastures, which leads to the reason for the bellota ("acorn"). In wooded pastures called dehesa, these pigs roam about and feast on acorns from several species of oaks, consuming up to a kilogram of acorns per day. This makes jamon Iberico de bellota the highest grade of jamon Iberico; most of the pigs are not fortunate enough to live this life -- lower grades of jamon Iberico are made from pigs grazed on grain or a combination of grain and acorns. The free range lifestyle and the acorns no doubt account for much of jamon Iberico de bellota's wonderful flavor, and in addition, the acorn-rich diet results in a high level of monounsatured fat -- thus the near-liquid consistency of the fat at room temperature.
I am still relatively ignorant about just how good jamon Iberico de bellota can get, but I look forward to trying the Spanish hams offered at DiBruno Brothers and hopefully, one day, going straight to the source in Spain.