The dehesas are a natural paradise, vast expanses of Mediterranean forest in the southwestern Iberian Peninsula, possessing a wild and captivating beauty. Among the wide and lush grasslands, oak trees, cork oaks, and most importantly, holm oaks thrive.
From these trees come the acorns, berries of rich nutritional value that are the main factor in the quality of the future ham. A true forest gem.
The dehesa also features shrubs, flowers, and forest fruits, scattered in a way that aids animal grazing, along with streams and ponds where they can quench their thirst. This water comes from abundant rains or snowmelt. It is in this sensational environment where the pigs will roam freely for several months.
Starting in October when the montanera begins, releasing the pigs into the dehesa, the shepherd must oversee them to ensure they feed well, move enough, and monitor that even the slower ones access the food.
At the beginning of the montanera, when the animals arrive lean and strong from the farm, they are led to the higher and steeper areas where they must engage in more exercise to eat and drink.
As they fatten, they are gradually moved to the lower part of the dehesa, where the holm oaks are closer to the ponds and the effort the animal needs to make is reduced. Over a period of 3 to 4 months, they will eat abundant grass, along with whatever they find, including cork bark among other things. And, of course, above all, the acorns that fall to the ground when they ripen. Mixed with fresh grass, the pig will eagerly consume it, tempted by the natural oil it contains.
Acorns and grass in the dehesa are usually quite distant from each other, sometimes even far apart, and to move between them, the animal might have to cross streams and valleys. With so much exercise, the pig ends up very muscular.
One holm oak produces around 25 kilograms of acorns per year.
In each hectare, which is a bit larger than a football field, there might be about 50 holm oaks, and it's estimated that for proper fattening of the animals, there shouldn't be more than 3 pigs per hectare.
To gain the remaining 50 kilograms to reach 150 in the dehesa, each pig will have consumed, among other things, 30 sacks of acorns like these, about 750 kilograms in total, and covered more than 1,000 kilometers crossing meadows, forests, and ponds.