The Spanish Pig
Types of ham including its grade or classification largely depends on the breed of pig. There are two main catagories of Spanish pig although breeds within these catagories do vary. The first and certainly most popular is “Iberian”
The Iberian pig which produces the “Iberico” ham is rather special hog and only accounts for a small percentage of ham production in Spain. The term “pata negra” may also be familiar, literally meaning “black foot” as the Iberian variety of pig usually have a black hoof (although some have a lighter brown hoof depending on the strain). The term pata negra has, in the past been loosely used to describe certain hams, this is now regulated to protect the ham, producers and the customer.
Iberian pigs have been present for thousands of years and can be traced as far back as approximately 1000 B.C. Crossed with the aggressive wild boar centuries ago the Iberian pig was born. Very different to a “normal” or white pig both through its appearance and also feeding habits:
The “Dehesa” or wooded meadowland is where some of the Iberian pigs roam free, eating the famous acorns or “bellotas” these pigs tend to be far more active than other pigs. Appearance wise, apart from the colouring Iberian pigs have pointed snouts (for snuffling out those acorns) and longer, slimmer legs.
The white pig produces a Serrano ham. These pigs are fed standard compound feed. The three most common breeds for Serrano ham production are:
- Large White
Some of these breeds (and variations of) can be cross bred with the Iberian pig. Two of the more prominent being the Duroc Jersey and Black Duroc. This type of cross breeding results in some Iberian pigs not being black – red, spotted and paler shades are quite possible. This kind of breeding is also regulated – no more than 25% must be non-Iberian, the other 75% plus must be pure Iberian breed.
The end result (especially with regard to Iberian hams) are two types of hams that can only be described as nothing short of exquisite. Two very different products but both regarded as the best in the world. The Serrano ham is produced in a very different way producing a different ham altogether to that of the Iberico.
The main differences lie not just in the breeds of pig but also the Iberian pigs ability to absorb its food (and acorns) in a different way producing a meat that tastes different and producing an unrivalled texture, marbled with fat and deep red in colour with an intense aroma.
The meat from the Serrano ham is paler in shade, has a lighter aroma and less fat within the meat. Commonly regarded as Spains most famous tapa along with the humble olive, the Serrano ham provides the consumer with a truly gourmet product at a more economical price than its classy cousin.
- Iberico ham production – 7%
- Serrano ham production – 93%
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