Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J is for Jamón Ibérico de Bellota

Let's stick with the food theme for a little bit.  While I was living in Switzerland, I was introduced to the wonderful world of charcuterie, preserved or cured meats (usually made of pork).  In the US, typically our exposure to things like salami, ham, and sausage is via sandwiches.  What I discovered in Switzerland is that Europeans really enjoy these by themselves.  One of my favorite stands in the Saturday market in Lausanne sold all manner of dried sausages and cured meats.

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)
Just look at that ham!  Look at the sheen, the beautiful intramuscular fat.  When I tasted it for the first time, I was surprised by the fact that it was not salty or smoky (usually flavors I associate with hams of various sorts), but incredibly rich and a little bit sweet, like pork should be.  I also quickly noticed that if you leave jamon Iberico out at room temperature, the ham begins to glisten because the fat is nearly liquid at room temperature!

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.


  1. If anyone out there loves prosciutto di Parma and prosciutto di San Daniele (I am actually a big fan of prosciutto Toscana), you need to try jamon Iberico de bellota. I can't guarantee you will like it better than your favorite prosciutto, but it will definitely give it a run for its money.

  2. Hello Adrian,

    Yum yum. Mouth watering of ham. I use your picture for my fiction love story "Lost in Time" based on a picture of writing challenge hosted by wordpress. I linked it back to your blog. http://mabel8ble.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/weekly-writing-challenge-1000-words-take-two/. I wish I had splurged (big time) to try this Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, rather than the regular much cheaper Jamón Serrano, which is already very good. It's just that everything was s---o--- salty there to the point it doesn't matter. Just too bad. JMO.