From dryer to your table

Published: 11/25/2016 18:53:48

Do you know the iberian ham elaboration process? What steps must be followed to obtain such a delicious product? Keep reading and you will know why is an Iberian ham so expensive.


We could summarize the procedure in three stages:

-       Raw material preparation (breeding of the pigs and their diet)

-       Curing of the ham (at least eighteen months)

-       Final selection to end costumers (dealer or retailer)


Curing consists of four stages: postsalting, drying, stove and cellar. They could be compared with the four seasons of the year if we base on environmental conditions: temperature and humidity. Winter would be postsalting, spring would be drying, summer would be estove and autumn would be the cellar. And depending on the weight of the ham, the drying process may last eighteen months to thirty-six or more, but before getting there, let us get to Iberian pig. Everything is going to affect the final product: diet of the animal, physical exercise, its age at the time of slaughter. More physical activity means that produced meat will have less fat and its quality will be higher. So we can say, without in any way detracting from the rest of the stages of the product elaboration, that caring of animals is the most important thing because if we fail on that, we fail on the obtained hams too, or pork shoulders or any portion of the pig.


When does pig do physical exercise? From fourteen months of age and in “montanera” (when the first acorns start to fall), The acorn feeding season extends from October until the beginning of March. The animal will feed in the meadow from Extremadura, where it will find not only acorns, but aromatic plants, wild mushrooms and other natural resources. Acorn will provide essential oils whose flavour will be transferred to the meat of the animal and the fat of the pig will be more fluid, as a result, fat will be more distributed on muscle fibres.  


After the slaughtering come the curing and drying phases of the iberian ham, which are themselves composed of sub-stages. When the leg of the pork is received, it will be stored in a refrigerating chamber for its perfect conservation and will be taken out at the right time. Now outside of the refrigerating chamber, the leg will be massaged to release any blood. It comes the moment of the ham profiling, which is to remove excess fat of the external part of the future ham. This phase is concluded whit the typical ‘corte serrano’ V cut to obtain a good maturation and to preserve the juiciness of the meat. It is taken out again any blood and then, all the profiled pieces are classified by content of fat and weight, to complete batches of hams with similar characteristics. Ham reaches the salting phase. Legs of the porks are stacked and covered with sea salt. The salt will penetrate the muscles, so the color and the flavour of the ham will further intensify. When all the legs are salted and after a reasonable time they are laundered to eliminate excess salt. It is allowed to rest the ham hanging by the hoof, so the salt is distributed uniformly in the leg of the pork and is impeded the proliferation of microbial flora too. Ham is almost at the end of its elaboration process. Now is the moment of drying and maturation period. This takes place in a natural drying room making appropriate use of natural light coming in through large windows. These windows are adjustables, this will allow to control ventilation and so the humidity and temperature will be optimal. At this stage, hams will sweat their fat, that will penetrate between the muscle fibres and this will help to originate the flavour of the ham, assited by the salt by which we have covered the ham at an earlier stage.The length of this phase in detail can range between six and nine months. At the same time as the leg of the pork dries, is also dehydrated until a satisfactory level of drying is reached. Ham pass already to the last stage of this so laborious process: refining or ageing. This phase is completed in the cellar, where the ham develops its flavor in all its glory until the optimum moment of its consumption. In total, it has spent between two and four years or more since the birth of the pig until this moment. This timescale depends on the type of feed received by the animal and from its weight at the time of slaughter, along with other factors.


What does it seem to you? It is a process where everything is cared in full details to obtain a product of premium quality. Once all the procedure has been completed, the best is yet to come. To enjoy the full flavor of the ham, its thin and infiltrated fat cover, mildly salted and its meadow aroma. I  already perceive it, and you?


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