Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Jamon Ibérico de Bellota

Today I received a Dean & Deluca catalog in the mail. The back cover has an ad for a ham called Jamon Ibérico de Bellota. The 13 lb. ham costs $2000, but they throw in the carving stand.
Think all hams are the same? Think again. Our bone-in Ibérico ham, from the Spanish pig of the same name, is richly marbled, delicately flavored and intensely succulent. Because they forage actively on acorns (bellota) and lush pasture grass throughout Spains montañera season from November through February, Ibérico de Bellota pigs produce the finest meat of all, with 35-40 percent of their body mass composed of fat for a truly wonderful taste and texture.
LaTienda.com has an article about this very special ham, and the animals from which it originates:
From the moment they are born, the special black Iberian hogs destined for Bellota quality are treated royally. For special periods after their birth, until their sacrifice (as the Spaniards term it), they live, sleep and forage under the open sky in specially maintained oak forests, called "la dehesa." These rare black-hoofed descendants of native Iberian wild boar typically have over five acres in which to forage and roam. They live for about two years in this porcine paradise -- many times the lifespan of a normal domestic pig.

In the bulking-up stage each fall, the pigs feast on 15 to 20 pounds of acorns or 'bellotas' per day. This allows them to gain as much as 2 pounds of body weight daily. The consistent exercise they enjoy as they forage in a free-range atmosphere is essential to the final quality of the hams.

Finally, the hams are 'sacrificed', salted and hung up to cure from two to four years. During this carefully monitored period when they are hanging in the mountain air, the hams lose 20% to 40% of their weight. Remarkably, the curing process converts much of the remaining fat of the ham into a beneficial good-cholesterol fat, much like extra virgin olive oil. But this process only occurs in the hams made from acorn fed pigs - producing Bellota ham.

After reading this, $150 per pound seems like a bargain!