19 January 2010

Iberico Hams - The New Law

The Spanish Iberian ham is without doubt Spain's finest gastronomic export. There has always though, been a degree of confusion regarding the different grades of Iberian ham and also the naming of the ham itself. In November 2009 the "Consejo Regulador Los Pedroches" (governing body) and the Ministry of Food ruled that the terms "Reserva" and "Grand Reserva" could not be used to describe Iberian ham. This action follows on from a similar decision to abolish term "Pata Negra"

Pata Negra (literally meaning black foot) was banned as regulations surrounding Iberian ham were revised, in truth not all Iberian pigs have "black feet" and not all Iberian pigs are fed on acorns so the term pata negra was deemed too broad and unsuitable for such a regulated product.

As of November 2009 Iberian hams fall into five catagories, these are Denominacion de Origen, Bellota, Recebo, Cebo and Cebo de Campo. Confused? Here's what it all means:

Denominacion de Origen (D.O) Iberian pigs where the Mother is as pure bred as possible and no less than 75% Iberico strain. Every stage from breeding to final curing is approved by the regulatory body.

Bellota, free range pigs that feed on acorns and grass.

Recebo, free range pigs that are fed on a mixed diet of acorns and compound feed.

Cebo, Iberian pigs (not free range) fed solely on compound feed

Cebo de Campo, Iberian pigs fed on a compound diet but which are also free range.

So what to look out for when buying Iberico ham? Bearing in mind that not all Iberian pigs are fed on acorns or "bellotas" flavours will vary quite significantly between each grade. Curing time for the cream of the crop "D.O" ham is a minimum of 36 months where as a Cebo grade ham is only cured for 24. The correct name should also be present, details of the producer and a numbered tag around the hoof.

Prices vary significantly between suppliers but as a general rule you should be able to buy a top of the range acorn fed ham for under 500 euros. Weight will be around 7.0 - 7.5kg and with a flavour and texture unlike anything else you will know where every penny has gone!

For further information on approved Iberian hams from the Pedroches valley click here

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