Guide for Buying Jamon Iberico
Everything you need to know when buying Iberico Ham
The most fascinating part of Jamon Iberico is the fact that every Jamon is different. There are different categories, different textures, flavours and costings associated with these variations. For an untrained eye, this may seem a little overwhelming and you may not know where to start. This is going to be the ultimate buying guide for buying Iberico Ham, Paleta Iberica & the finest Cured Spanish Meats.
Classifications of Jamon Iberico
Jamon Iberico has been put into different classifications according to the quality of the Jamon. This all depends on the purity of the breed, diet and exercise of the pig that the Jamon has been produced from. The classification tags are Black, Red, Green and White.
Black Label Hams are the most appreciated Jamon classification is the Black Label Iberico Ham, which is often referred to as Jamon Iberico De Bellota (in Spanish) and Pata Negra– which translates to ‘Black Hoof’. Pata Negra is produced using 100% bred Iberian Pig which is native to the Iberian Peninsula in Spain and Portugal. These pigs are also fed an exclusive diet of oak tree acorns (called Bellota in Spanish) and given miles of land to roam around. To qualify as a Black Label, the pig must be able to eat between 7 to 8 Kg. of acorns a day over the period of 4 months (the Montanera season). In order to give you some perspective, an oak tree produces an average of 20 Kg. of acorns in a single season. This limits the amount of Black Label Jamon that can be produced and makes this delicacy even more exclusive.
This breeding process gives the Jamon its nuanced, sweet and nutty taste with a ‘melt in the mouth’ texture. The acorns are the reason why the cured meat is so world-renowned. The fat of the Jamon is milky and the Jamon seems ‘sweaty’ due to the oils and layers of fat marbled through the muscle. After the Jamon is cured for 36 -48 months to perfection, it is tested to ensure that it is of the finest quality and only the finest are selected to adorn the black label. To spot a pure Black Label you will see the soft, sweaty texture of the fat and small white calcified spots in the meat.
Due to the care, and time of curation, the Black Label is the most expensive Jamon available. A Jamon Iberico De Bellota Leg is priced at £475 on our website.
The difference between the Black and Red Label Ham is very small. To touch, taste and by sight, the two are very similar. The difference lies in the breed of the animal; the Red Label is produced from an animal which is 75% Iberian pig. The animals are fed an exclusive diet of acorns and are allowed to run free range in the same way as during the production of the finest Jamon, the Pata Negra.
Green Label is a level down from Black- It is often created using either 50% or 75% bred Iberian pig with a mixture of acorns and grain diet. Quite often, the Jamon that doesn’t make the very high grade of being Pata Negra, becomes a Green Label. Sometimes a very good Green Label is hard to tell apart from the Black Label. The green Jamon is noted as ‘younger’ with a more ‘intense’ and salty flavour which is favoured by many Spanish people.
Green Label is a very reasonably priced product. We currently offer a Green Label Ham Shoulder for £99
The White Label is a product that we do not sell. Often referred to as Jamon de Cebo, it is produced from a pig that is 50% Iberian pig bred and is fed a diet of grain only. A very important part of the production of Jamon is that the pig must get a lot of exercises- the white label is raised indoors or with limited space. The White Label is produced to get the highest yield, with the shortest possible curation time. It is also the cheapest to produce so many companies prefer to produce this ham because it has a higher profit margin. A white label Jamon is often seen in Spain in supermarkets at Christmas time presented as grrat deals.
For more information about the Classifications of Spanish Hams, click the link.
Difference between Iberico Ham (Jamon Iberico) and Iberico Ham Shoulder (Paleta Iberica)
When you are looking to buy some Jamon you must identify which part of the Iberian pig you are buying; there are two parts, the Jamon (which is the back leg) and the Paleta (which is the iberico ham shoulder or front leg of the animal). As a summary of the differences, the shoulder is smaller and has a shorter curation process; top quality ones are usually cured for 24 months. The shoulder has a ‘younger’ and juicier taste due to time of curation and the infiltrated fat . The texture is more often more ‘chewy’ and fibrous which gives the shoulder its intense characteristics.
In comparison, the Jamon leg is larger and takes much longer to cure… usually up to 48 months for the finest ones. The curation process gives the Jamon a more ‘nuanced’ and delicate taste. The longer time of curation and flavour properties are the reasons the back leg is considered more of a delicacy. In saying this, neither is better than the other as it all depends on your personal preference.
Please see our Jamon article for more detail on the Difference between the Leg and the Shoulder
Iberico Ham Price
Due to the curation process and size of the legs, the Jamon is more expensive than the shoulder. For instance, 100 grams of Jabugo Iberico ham is £12.50 while the ham shoulder is £9.50.
There is also price differences between the ways in which you can buy the Jamon. For instance, you may find that a 5kg leg is less expensive than 5kg of hand sliced Jamon; this is all to do with the yield. As you will learn below, the whole leg can be up to 60% fat content. This means that from a 5kg leg or shoulder, you may only get 2kgs of meat. When the Jamon is hand sliced, the master cutter removes the fat and ensures every slice has the perfect percentage of fat and meat; the hand sliced Jamon has a 100% yield of edible and usable product, thus it comes at a higher price.
Formats You Can Buy Iberico Ham
The format in which you buy Iberico Ham can determine your level of enjoyment. While some love the challenging experience of opening and slicing a whole leg, others prefer to have more time to sit back and enjoy. There are three formats that you can buy Iberico Ham in.
Firstly, you may purchase a whole leg. This is often a very popular option for those who are buying Iberico Ham as a gift, or as a centrepiece for a party. It takes some skill to open the Jamon, and slice it to perfection, however, it is a fantastic way to wow guests or to mark a special occasion. Often for those who buy a whole leg find that there is a lot of fat to remove before the muscle can be found. For the Jamon leg, the fat to meat percentage is roughly half (50/50), in a shoulder it is slightly more at 40% meat and 60% fat (40/60). One advantage to buying a whole leg is that you can still use the bone after the meat is finished. The bones can be boiled down and used to create a beautiful Jamon stock. This is the perfect addition to the preparation of any stew, sauce or pasta dish.
Alternatively, you may buy Iberico ham as a deboned package. This means that the meat and fat have been cut away from the bone. The advantage of buying a deboned leg is that it is easier to store and transport, plus it is easier to slice. The deboned Jamon is vacuum packed to preserve all the flavours and tenderness of the Jamon.
Finally, you may purchase Iberico Ham hand sliced which ready to enjoy. This is produced by a master cutter who hand slices the Jamon into vacuum packed sleeves.
Expert care and consideration has been given to the production of the Jamon and the slices are expertly taken from the leg to give you the full Jamon experience. Once you open the packet there is no need to prepare the meat, there is only time to enjoy! Another advantage to buying the Jamon hand sliced is that you get more for what you pay for. If you buy a whole leg, a lot of the yield is fat. The only way to ensure that you only get the good bits is to order the Jamon hand sliced.
There are 4 main regions in Spain that are known for their quality production of Jamon Iberico, and Iberian cured meats; Salamanca, Huelva/Jabugo, the Los Pedroches Valley and Extremadura. Each are equally famous for their production of Jamon and have their own unique flavour profiles. Just like in the production of fine wine, each regions climate, humidity and soil conditions create regional characteristics. Salamanca, and more specifically the surrounding area of the town Guijuelo, is famed for its Jamon production. The products here are considered slightly sweeter, richer and more intense. This is due to the climate, curations process and spices that are used. The Guijuelo Lomo, for instance, is said to be creamier than the other regions which are smokey in flavour.
One of the most famous regions is the province which includes the town of Jabugo and the surrounding lands, in the westernmost area of Andalucía. Jabugo has a very good name for its products and some of the most revered Jamon producers call Jabugo their home. The Los Pedroches Valey is found in the region of Andalucía northwest of Córdoba, and Extremadura, in a region of western Spain near Portugal.
Iberian Cured Meats
Spanish cured meats have been around for as long as Jamon has; these meats are found usually as sausages and produced with blends of spices and aromatics. These cured meats are the Chorizo, Salchichon, Lomo and Lomito. The most famous of the Spanish cured meats is the mighty Chorizo. This is a spicey and rich cured meat that is popular all around the world. It is the quintessential Spanish treat for many.
The Chorizo and Salchichon are cured sausages made from a blend of chopped pork, herbs and spices. The Chorizo and Salchichon’s that we provide are made with the finest Iberico Jamon. This produces the finest cured meats in the whole of Spain. The meats are dry-cured, cooked, smoked or a combination of methods and then cured for up to three months before they are ready to eat.
The Chorizo is famous for its spicy flavours which come from the use of Paprika or Cayenne Pepper. The Salchichon is produced with a blend of herbs, such as oregano, garlic and whole cracked peppers. Although both are seasoned with salt, a Salchichon is saltier and more intense compared to the Chorizo.
The second type of Spanish cured meats on offer are whole cuts like the Lomito and Lomo. Both are considered a better quality of meat compared to the other sausages. This is due to the fact that the Lomo and Lomito are a pure cut of meat. They are taken from the loin, the neck, of the animal.
Any Questions or Comments?
There is a lot of information here about Iberico so don’t worry if you are still slightly confused. If you have questions, please do get in touch with us at Carlos@theblackhoof.com. We would like this opportunity to welcome any contributions or corrections to the content. This is a work in progress and will continue to grow to provide the very best Jamon information on the web.