Jamon Iberico de Bellota: air dried ham made from acorn fed pigs

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Jamon Iberico de Bellota
Food glossary

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane

The best ham in the world comes from southern Spain where special breeds of pig are fed on a diet of acorn. The leg meat is then cured in salt, wiped dry and then hung in cellars to take on the incredibly distinctive flavour. The rivers of fat that run through the meat also break down to take on a creamy consistency.
The three levels of ham produced under the Spanish main appellation are:
1. Jamon Iberico de Bellota only fed on acorns and pasture
2. Jamón Ibérico de Recebo fed on acorns and pasture supplemented by cereals
3. Jamón Ibérico de Cebo fed on a mixed diet with some acorns
The best of the best is usually thought to be Jamon Iberico de Bellota de Jabugo which comes from the village of the same name in the centre of the ham producing area. This is the ham that we buy at Da Rosa in Paris and that Joel Robuchon serves at L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon.
The back legs are removed and encased in salt for two to three weeks depending on their size. They are then removed, the salt is taken off and they are air-dried for up to two years. By this stage the weight will have been reduced by almost 50%.
The drying is done in three stages.
The first stage is for one to two months in humidity controlled chambers where the surface of the ham dries out and the slat penetrates all parts of the meat.
The second stage is in drying halls open to the air. This process occurs during spring and summer. They are exposed to the heat of summer as this helps to break down the fat that produces that creamy consistency that is so appealing.
The third stage is in cellars where a penicillin mold starts to act of the meat and is thought to create the deep pink hue without the use of nitrates.
Try the ham produced by Martin Raventos called Unico. Chefs such as Aduriz and Arzak prefer Joselito Gran Reserva which they say is the finest in Spain and hence, of course, the world.

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