Iberian ham: a unique product
Iberian ham is a unique product in the world. In order to obtain a product like this, you need a couple of things that you can only find at the same time in the Iberian Peninsula: Iberian pigs and pastures. The Iberian pig has some very special characteristics that make it unique. For the purposes of the quality of the hams, the Iberian pig has an unusual nutrient absorption capacity and the ability to infiltrate fat into the muscle , which at the end of the process generates those characteristic white betas that give the ham Iberian ham that special flavor.
We could export Iberian pigs to another country, but to obtain this very special product, the pig would have to find a place that is impossible to find elsewhere, the pastures. Those Mediterranean forests where the Iberian pig ends its fattening phase in the wild, basically eating acorns and fresh grass. It is precisely the way this diet is metabolized that ends up giving the Iberian ham its exclusive flavour.
To these two exclusive characteristics we must add the know-how , transmitted from generation to generation, of the ham producers. Once you have a top quality raw material, you need the knowledge, the wise hands and the patience of the ham producers to finish the process in the best possible way. In Spain there are 4 areas of origin of Iberian ham: Extremadura , Córdoba , Guijuelo and Huelva .
Before going on to explain the new legislation regarding the labeling of Iberian ham, it should be borne in mind that for at least one year all pigs basically feed on vitaminized feed.
The montanera , the period in which the pigs are free, begins between October and November, when the cold of the mountains and the maturation of the acorns make them fall naturally. And it lasts about four months until February. From the time they are born until they go out to the montanera, the pigs must reach an approximate weight of 100 kg. They must be vigorous and with strong bones to support the final fattening in freedom.
So let's look at the new legislation.
Why did the regulations change?
The Council of Ministers has approved the quality standard for Iberian meat, ham, shoulder and loin, which seeks first of all that the consumer knows exactly what he is buying.
New controls are established both in the production process and in consumer information. The new regulations, highly anticipated in the sector since the old legislation became obsolete and confusing, was created to guarantee animal management that provides the highest quality and establish stricter conditions regarding animal husbandry, healing times and weights. of channels and parts.
With regard to marketing, transparency and clarity in the information to the consumer is promoted in the mentions of the labeling of the products. With the new legislation, it is mandatory to indicate the denomination of sale and the racial percentage and to avoid misleading advertising.
The 100% Iberian pig was in trouble
With the relaxation and confusion of the quality standard criteria, as well as the lack of transparency in commercial communication, the Iberian breed was beginning to enter into crisis. In Spain, in the last four years, 70 percent of Iberian heads have been lost and the acorn-based pasture breeding system had regressed .
Changes in the name of sale and labeling
It is mandatory to indicate the designation for feeding and handling, as well as the percentage of racial purity.
a) Sales denominations:
The feeding mode and the management system come first . The previous four options go from three to three, eliminating the top dressing designation:
- of acorn
- of field bait
- of bait
b) Denomination of racial purity:
The information on the percentage of the Iberian breed is now mandatory in a prominent place on the label (accredited by the "racial certificate", issued by the corresponding association officially recognized for the management of the Genealogical Book).
- 100% pure Iberian : the percentage is included in the sales denomination itself. The animal is of pure Iberian breed, and only for this animal the advertising can use the “ Pata negra ” or elements that allude to the “bellota”, the “dehesa” and “montanera”.
- Crossbred animals (pure Iberian with the American Duroc Jersey): the racial percentage is not included in the sales denomination, therefore it must be on the label as a mandatory mention, in an appropriate size and close to the commercial denomination.
c) Seal of a different color for each designation:
The percentage of racial purity combined with the food he receives during the months he is free can give us four types of products, indicated by a colored flange on each piece with its own barcode:
1. 100% Iberian acorn-fed ham . It is identified with a black label. It certifies two things, on the one hand that the pig is 100 Iberian and on the other that when it completes the fattening phase in the pasture (where it has mainly eaten acorns and fresh grass) it is slaughtered.
2. Acorn-fed Iberian ham . It is identified with a red tag . In this case the degree of purity of the breed is between 99 and 50%). The labeling will indicate exactly the percentage. As in the previous case, at the end of the montanera, they are slaughtered.
3. Iberian field bait ham . The label is green. The degree of purity is between 99 and 50%. And unlike the previous category, the pig after the process in the field has returned to be fed with feed so that it reaches its optimal weight. Given that the last thing this animal has eaten has not been acorns, if I do not feed the final product it will hardly be as high quality as the previous one, so it is not necessary to invest 36 months in curing it and with 24 we will obtain a product of the highest quality.
4. Iberian bait ham . The label is white. This pig is over 50% pure but has only been fed with feed. The mere fact of having a high percentage of purity already gives the final product a lot of quality, so despite not having gone out into the field, if the cook is good we will have a very good ham with this raw material.
Finally, it should be remembered that once we have obtained the desired raw material, a fundamental part of this process arrives: The cook. The artisan hands that with time, salt and that unique raw material will achieve an Iberian ham. A gastronomic gem. To get out of any doubt you can review the regulations in the boe in more detail.