What to Look For When Buying Spanish Cured Meats

July 22, 2011

Spanish cured meats are making a splash in American markets.  They are on the rage on menus and is the thing to eat when visiting Spain.  If you are willing to spend the money, you should be aware of the various key words that indicate the quality of the cured meat.  In other words, you want to make sure you are getting what you pay for.  These indicators usually show the breed of pig and the animal’s diet, and how long the meat was cured.  Cured meats from the Iberíco pig fed on acorns are of the highest quality and have the best flavor.

Protected Geographical Status (P.G.S) – This label is the result of a series of laws defined by the European Union to protect regional foods by eliminating the misleading marketing of non-genuine products that may be inferior in quality and flavor.  If you see this seal, you know you are getting the real deal.

Iber í co - Meat is from the pata negra or Iberian black pig.  The pig can be cross bred but must be at least 50% Iberian black pig to be labeled as such.  Cured meats made from this breed will cure between 2 to 4 years.

Serrano - Meat is from "Landrace" or “Duroc” breed of white pig.  Cured meats are aged from 9 to 15 months.

Puro - Both parents of the pig were purebred.

Cebo - The pig was only fed grain.  These pigs have probably spent their lives on a factory farm.  Grain is used as feed because it fattens the pigs quickly, making for cheap jamón but of low quality.

Recebo- The pig was fed a mixture of acorns and grain.

Bellota- The pig was fed on only acorns, making for the best meat in texture and in taste.  These pigs are released into oak forests, the dehesa, at 10 months old and are allowed to roam for the next 4 months.  This phase is called the montanera.  On average, a pig raised in this condition will gain a kilo of fat every day.  The pig’s unique diet of acorns combined with the curing process changes the saturated fats into healthy mono-unsaturated fats high in oleic acid. The only fat higher in oleic acid is olive oil.  Hams made in this style will cure more than 2 years.

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