We at Costa Brava have been on a quest for the finest of all hams, Jamón Ibérico, since we started our business ten years ago. Like the Beluga caviar or Kobe beef, Jamón Ibérico is the ultimate of its kind. Until now, it has been unavailable in the U.S.
The first Spanish producer, Embutidos y Jamones Fermín, is now fully approved by the U.S. Government to export Ibérico to the United States. The small family company delivered their first shipment of Ibérico embutidos (chorizo and salchichón sausages; lomo - cured loin) in July 2006.
The first Jamones Ibéricos (hams) arrived in time for Christmas in 2007. The first was sliced by celebrated chef José Andrés on December 12th with the Spanish ambassador to the U.S. in attendance . The crown jewel of Spanish ham, the Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, or acorn fed Iberico ham, will be arriving July 2008. These larger hams require more time to cure, but they are worth the wait!
Jamón Ibérico is the pride of Spain. The lineage of the unique animals that produce the hams stretches back to pre-history when they ran wild in the Iberian Peninsula. Columbus had some of them on the Santa María when he set out to discover the New World.
There are two types of black-hoofed Iberico pigs - one that lives the life of a normal pig and one that is free-range fed on acorns (bellotas) and wild plants. These are the coveted Bellota hams. The only difference is in diet and exercise, but those things make all the difference in the world.
The rare Bellota Jamón Ibérico hams are infused with the flavor of their favorite food, the acorn (bellota) from a cork tree. The paper-thin slices, glistening with healthy mono-unsaturated fat, provide a rich nutty flavor and tender texture. Spaniards consume the vast majority of these hams in their own country. Some producers have waiting lists for several years for their best products. They cannot produce enough hams to meet the demand from Spain, France, Japan and now America.
From the moment they are born, the special black Iberian hogs destined for Bellota quality are treated royally. For special periods after their birth, until their sacrifice (as the Spaniards term it), they live, sleep and forage under the open sky in specially maintained oak forests, called "la dehesa". These rare black-hoofed descendants of native Iberian wild boar typically have over five acres in which to forage and roam. They live for about two years in this porcine paradise - many times the lifespan of a normal domestic pig.
In the bulking-up stage each fall, the pigs feast on 15 to 20 pounds of acorns or 'bellotas' per day. This allows them to gain as much as 2 pounds of body weight daily. The consistent exercise they enjoy as they forage in a free-range atmosphere is essential to the final quality of the hams.
Finally, the hams are 'sacrificed', salted and hung up to cure from two to four years. During this carefully monitored period when they are hanging in the mountain air, the hams lose 20% to 40% of their weight. Remarkably, the curing process converts much of the remaining fat of the ham into a beneficial good-cholesterol fat, much like extra virgin olive oil. But this process only occurs in the hams made from acorn fed pigs - producing Bellota hams.
Pata Negra is the informal term for the famous 'black hoofed' ham, produced from a venerable strain of Iberian hog, native only to Spain. Jamón Ibérico is the formal name ˜ it is the same thing. But the ultimate expression of this coveted ham is called Jamón Ibérico 'Bellota" referring to those animals who spend their final days feasting on rich, mono-unsaturated acorns. Some people also call it 'Jabugo' ham after a famous Spanish ham town.
We receive our Iberian pork products from Jamones y Embutidos Fermín who produce artisan Jamón Ibérico and 'Bellota' hams, chorizos, salchichones (sausages), lomos (pork loins) and paletas (shoulders). They located their company among the forests that surround the medieval mountain village of La Alberca, near Salamanca.
The curing is taking place in La Alberca in western Spain, in a strictly controlled, USDA approved facility. Each ham is individually numbered and will come with certification attesting to its authenticity as an Iberian ham from purebred stock.
All of the whole bone-in Ibérico hams will have hooves, or patas, which proves that they are true Ibérico pigs.
Yes, both boneless and bone-in hams are available. The boneless hams average 4 kilos in weight (8.5 pounds) and the bone-in hams average 7.5 kilos (15 pounds). Lomo (loin), chorizo and salchichón made from Iberian hogs will be available in a matter of weeks. Some of those will be "Bellota"; the others will be regular Jamón Ibérico.