Not all Spanish hams are qualified as Jamon Iberico. Just as a saying goes,"the greatest delicacies are all matured by time." It takes considerable time to produce a tasty ham.
As a unique breed in Iberian Peninsula that evolves from boar, Iberico is endowed with thin long limbs. Also, as a free-range animal, it keeps in good shape, where the ratio of muscle to fat stays at a proper level. The Iberico lives in oak forests. In the last three or four months of their life, they live exclusively on bellota (acorns), which enables them to increase their weight by 50%. But roaming in the natural environment helps put on more "healthy fat" in an Iberico. It is said that if an Iberico solely diets on acorns, its fat will have a lower percentage of cholesterol and a higher level of oleic acid, which is as "'health" as olive oil.
Their time has arrived for the 'sacrifice' once the pigs reach the age of 18 months. Their hind legs are cut, pickled only by crude sea salt, and then stored in a 4oC refrigerator for dehydration for 12 to 14 days. Later, the ham is rinsed and stored again in a low-temperature environment (6-8oC) for 4 to 6 weeks. The meat quality will not stabilize until all these procedures are done.
Next, the ham is air-cured in a unique climate in South Spain, which is located at the intersection of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. When spring comes and the temperature rises, the meat starts to sweeten. During the curing period, it loses its weight by about 1/3, and the meat gives off a distinct pleasant smell. Then it will be stored in a cellar with a low temperature and a high humidity for at least 14 months, during which a type of fungus comes into being, giving a new taste for the ham.
After the ham becomes ripened, inspection is required before the product enters the market. Inspectors pierce a specific part of the ham with a long needle made of bones or animal horns and smell the needle to judge whether the ham is qualified. Those which fail the inspection will be sent back for further processing.
In general, the ripening period of hams in the market reaches 24 months and some even 30. That is to say, it takes approximately 5 years to raise a pig and produce a ham.
A superior Jamon Iberico weighs about 6 to 8 kg. Slice away the surface layer, and you can see that the meat is dark red, marbled with veins of fat. Such a top product is comparable with a piece of excellent artwork.