jamón ibérico spanish iberian ham

Jamón is the most famous dry-cured Spanish meat product in the world, possibly even the most famous Spanish product in the world, and jamón Iberico is (rightfully) considered to be its best iteration.

Only accounting for less than 10% of all jamón production in the world, jamón Iberico is praised by experts for its exceptional texture, flavor, and aroma, with even the cheapest varieties thought of as special delicacies. 

In the article below, we’ll be exploring the most oft-searched questions about jamón Iberico from Google, answering them as succinctly as possible without skipping any vital facts. Are there any questions regarding the topic you wish we had answered? Let us know in the comment section!

What is Jamón Ibérico?

Jamón Iberico is a dry-cured Spanish ham made from the hind leg of a pig with at least 50% of Black Iberian ancestry. What’s more, for the pig to be considered of proper ancestry, its Black Iberian ancestor must have been cross-bred with the Duroc pig.

Authentic jamón Iberico can only be produced in Spain or Portugal, as these are native breeding countries of Iberian pigs.

The first step of making jamón Iberico is to clean and cover the hind leg of the Iberian pig with salt. After about two weeks, the salt is washed off, and the meat is left to dry. After around 4-6 weeks, it’s moved to another facility for the final curing process. Jamón Iberico needs to be cured for at least twenty-four months, but the process can last for up to four full years.

What is Special About Jamón Ibérico?

Jamón Iberico accounts for around 7-10% of overall jamón production in the world. It can only be made from a specific type of meat (the hind leg of a Black Iberian pig) and has an uncommonly long curing period that lasts between twenty-four and forty-eight months.

The combination of these factors creates a product with a very precise texture and flavor profile. Jamón Iberico is supposed to be chewy and somewhat dry, but at the same time buttery and delicate, with an intense pork flavor and a multitude of undertones that leave a strong aftertaste.

What Does Jamón Ibérico Taste Like?

Jamón Iberico has a very intense and complex flavor. The primary flavor profile is meaty and savory, with a well-expressed pork flavor. But it also has a multi-layered undertone, with robust nuttiness, tender sweetness, smokiness, and even hints of spiciness to it. 

Which is the Best Jamón Ibérico?

While all jamón Iberico is considered to be a high-quality delicacy, they are still separated into strict categories, depending on the ancestry, diets of the pigs used in production, and the production method itself.

There are two systems in place categorizing jamón Iberico. The first one utilizes colored labels and is used to denote the ancestry, living conditions, and diets of the pigs:

  • The black label is used to mark that the pork comes from a pig with 100% Iberian ancestry, was raised “free-range,” and has been kept on an acorn diet; 
  • The red label is used to mark that the pork comes from a pig with at least 50% Iberian ancestry, was raised “free-range,” and has been kept on an acorn diet; 
  • The green label is used to mark that the pork comes from a pig with at least 50% Iberian ancestry that was raised “free-range,” but its diet was supplemented with grains and cereals;
  • The white label is used to mark that the pork comes from a pig with at least 50% Iberian ancestry but has been “conventionally farmed” (i.e., kept on the farm in captivity) and fed a grain-and-cereal-based diet.

The second categorizing system rises from the first one and has to do with 1) the type of pork used in production; 2) the length of the jamón curing process:

  • Jamón Ibérico de Cebo is usually marked with a white label. It’s cured for at least 24 months. It accounts for around 2/3 of all jamón Iberico produced.
  • Jamón Ibérico de Cebo de Campo is usually marked with a green label. It’s cured for at least 36 months. 
  • Jamón Ibérico de Bellota is made exclusively from pigs on an acorn diet and is thus marked with either a red or black label. The red label jamón Iberico is typically cured for a period between 36 to 48 months, but the process can sometimes last longer and result in a more expensive product. Pata Negra indicates black label jamón Iberico made from 100% Iberian pig (it means black paw in Spanish) since 2014 (the use of the term wasn’t regulated before that).

There are also regional varieties of jamón Iberico that have been granted protected designation of origin status and thus cannot be made anywhere else in the world: jamón Ibérico de Guijuelo, jamón Ibérico de Jabugo, jamón Ibérico Dehesa de Extremadura, and jamón Ibérico de Los Pedroches

However, while they can be harder to find than standard Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Pata Negra, the latter is commonly thought to be the best jamón Iberico variety among all.

What is the Difference Between Jamón Ibérico and Jamón Serrano?

The breed of pig used for jamón production is the main difference between the two. Jamón serrano can be made with most conventional pig breeds (though white Duroc pigs are considered the best), and the production process is overall laxer, as most jamón serrano varieties are not controlled by any regulatory body.

Jamón Iberico typically is a darker, brighter red, and the marbling is more pronounced, with the white streaks of fat more stark. It has a smoother, more tender, and buttery texture compared to jamón serrano due to the higher fat content in Iberian pork. The flavor is also more complex, a bit sweeter but with noticeable notes of spice and smokiness. It’s also much nuttier, with the pork flavor more well-balanced with other flavor undertones.

You can read more about the similarities and differences between jamón Ibérico and jamón serrano in our guide that covers this information in-depth.

Is Prosciutto and Jamón Ibérico the Same?

No. While Italian prosciutto is often compared to Spanish jamón as they’re both cured meat products made with a pig’s hind leg, their textures and flavor profiles significantly differ from one another.

Jamón Ibérico has a more intense meaty aroma and a more complex and robust flavor profile with distinctly nutty and smoky notes. While there are hints of sweetness, the overall flavor profile is more savory and a bit spicy. 

In contrast, prosciutto has a more delicate and subtle flavor, with more well-pronounced sweetness.

Also, the long curing process ensures that jamón Iberico, while supple and tender due to the higher-than-average fat content, is still drier and chewier than most cured meat products, including prosciutto.

Can You Eat Jamón Ibérico Raw?

Jamón Iberico is cured meat product, which means that while technically it’s uncooked, it’s not precisely raw either. Yes, jamón Iberico can be eaten as is, straight out of the package or off the bone, freshly cut. The curing process makes it completely safe for consumption.

Can You Cook Jamón Ibérico?

Yes, you can, though many would argue cooking takes away the flavor complexities that it’s prized so highly for in the first place.

The key is not to overcook jamón, even if you’re adding it to more complex dishes. Frying it in a pan for a couple of minutes is more than enough to get it crispy if it’s the extra crunch you’re looking for. The same goes for using it as a base for pasta sauces, a filling in hot paninis, an ingredient in omelets, or a salad topping.

The same goes for the oven: don’t cook it for more than a couple of minutes. Say, if you’re adding it as a pizza topping, do so at the last minute, with the cheese already melted.

How Do You Eat Jamón Ibérico?

Ideally, jamón Iberico should be thinly sliced and served at room temperature. 

Jamón Iberico is best eaten by itself, only accompanied by fresh white bread or tortas, and garnished with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. This way, nothing overwhelms its flavor, and you’ll get to enjoy the complex flavor profile of this delicacy properly.

What is Good with Jamón Ibérico? What Cheese Goes with Jamón Ibérico?

With jamón Iberico, less is more. While the primary flavor profile is robust and intense, the underlying flavor notes are easy to overwhelm, which means pairing it with other rich ingredients takes away a lot of flavor complexity.

Jamón, be it serrano or Iberico, is traditionally paired with Manchego cheese. Otherwise, in the case of jamón Iberico, mellow, milky cheese makes the best pairing: mozzarella, Emmental, ricotta, chevre, etc. This type of cheese will cut through the saltiness of jamón Iberico without overwhelming the overall flavor. 

If you do decide to serve it as a part of the charcuterie board, it’s best to pair it with fruits and nuts with a mellow, moderately sweet flavor profile. Apples, pears, and apricots are good choices for fruits, while hazelnuts and almonds make the best pairing among nuts.

Can I Bring Jamón Ibérico from Spain to the USA?

No. Bringing cured meat products like jamón, prosciutto, or salami onto US soil without proper authorization isn’t permitted. 

If you wish to get a taste of jamón Iberico, you should purchase it from local sellers who have been granted such authorization.

How Long Does Jamón Ibérico Last?

It depends on whether the jamón in question has been commercially packed or is freshly sliced at an artisanal butcher shop. 

Commercially packaged jamón Iberico can last anywhere between 9 and 12 months. Pay attention to the expiration date on the label.

Most butcher shops vacuum-seal their jamón after slicing it, which keeps the product fresh for longer. Vacuum-sealed jamón Iberico can last up to 90 days.

As with other dry-cured meat products, once the vacuum is broken, the shelf life of jamón Iberico will start to shorten rapidly. Commercially packaged jamón Iberico will last comparatively longer, for about two months, while the artisanal jamón is best consumed within three weeks

How Do You Keep Jamón Ibérico Fresh? Does Jamón Ibérico Need to be Refrigerated?

Not necessarily, but it is highly desirable. Similar to other cured meat products, jamón Iberico can last at lower room temperature without damage as long as it’s dry and dark. But it’s easier to ensure that jamón is appropriately protected from heat, direct light, humidity, and exposure to oxygen if it’s kept in the refrigerator.

In other words: will it spoil if it’s left out overnight? Not unless you do so with the vacuum unsealed in extreme heat and humidity. Will it last better long-term if kept in the fridge? Absolutely.

Make sure to tightly wrap the slices in plastic wrap and keep them in an air-tight container once you’ve broken the vacuum.

Can You Freeze Jamón Ibérico?

It’s possible in theory, but jamón Iberico is a very delicate product, and defrosting will damage its delicate texture and taste. Unless the only other alternative is leaving it to spoil, you should skip the freezer with this one. 

In any case, don’t expect it to taste as good thawed as it does fresh. 

Why is Jamón Ibérico So Expensive?

Jamón Iberico is so expensive because it’s expensive to breed and raise Iberian pigs. 

The Iberian pigs haven’t been genetically modified to yield like most industrial pigs:

  • They’re smaller in size and yield less meat per head;
  • They have smaller litters (maximum of 6 in the best conditions, compared to 8-12 an industrialized pig can yield);
  • They’re never administered antibiotics or hormones;
  • They’re slow growers and need about 12-14 (sometimes up to 18) to reach proper weight for slaughter;
  • They require ample space if they’re to be raised “free-range,” which means the farmer needs to maintain a larger swath of land per pig.

All of these conditions produce what most experts consider to be the best quality pork in the world, but they make the process of breeding and raising Iberian pigs a costly affair which, in turn, is reflected in products made with Iberian pork, including jamón Iberico.

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