Jamon Iberico Bellota: the gastronomic pride of Spain | Giorgio’s Gourmet

A content series highlighting exceptional European foods for an American luxury food importer.

Client: Giorgio’s Gourmet

Jamon is the cultural and gastronomic pride of Spain. Styles differ in each region, both in Spain and in Portugal, but wherever they are produced the traditions and the artisanal techniques are cultural treasures. 

 A true testament of how special Jamon can be is the Jamon Iberico de Bellota: the most valued of all the jamons. Iberico pigs, native to the Iberian peninsula, are a rare example of a domesticated species that has adapted and thrived in a natural pastoral setting. Bellota literally translates to acorn, as this is what the native pigs feed on for a majority of their lives. The Iberian pigs that become Iberico de Bellota roam freely in the southwest region of Spain, an area known as the Extremadura region. During the autumn season, they graze around groves of holm and cork oak trees (called dehesas in Spain) and naturally feed on acorns and the rich pasture around them. 

The combination of that natural instinct to forage, enormous appetites, and the ability to accumulate and retain massive amounts of intramuscular fat create a superior jamon to any other. That intramuscular fat is what produces the marbling that allows the jamon to melt as it warms on your palette. 

The hams are stacked four high and layed out to be completely enrobed in a blanket of sea salt to allow them to cure while simultaneously promoting the growth of beneficial microbes and repelling undesirable ones. When removed from the salt, they are allowed to rest and then hung to cure and dry. The drying process replicates a traditional technique of opening and closing the surrounding windows, adjusting the temperature in the cellar, as well as the effect of the natural flora that grows on the surface of the ham – giving it its unique aroma.

In addition to the loss of moisture as it cures, the literal dripping of its fat can amount to a loss of about 35% of the ham’s original weight, thus concentrating its flavor. This entire process can take between 26-40 months!

The diet, exercise, and the Iberian ancestry all play roles in the large and subtle differences of taste and flavor in the jamon. Within the style of Iberico de Bellota, there are two grades that can be divided into two labels. A black label means that the jamon is produced from pure bred Iberian pigs; whilst a red label signifies a pig that has been raised free-range though it does not have full Iberian heritage. The percentage of the Iberian heritage must be indicated on that red label.

Experiencing Iberico de Bellota is to experience Spain’s proudest and most valued culinary tradition!