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Author: Sarah Last updated: Thu 10 Sep 10:34
Iberian Acorn-fed ham

Iberian Acorn-Fed Ham, why is it so expensive?

 Iberian pigs are raised exclusively in Spain, the meat they provide is loved for its melt-in-the-mouth and consistency. The rich flavour and buttery texture are also highly prized. So sought after is Iberian acorn-fed ham, that a single leg can run to over $1,000 (£769, €845). If that sounds high, and it is, the price is not the most eyebrow-raising part about this ham.

The health properties associated with the ham are lesser-known but they are just as mind-boggling as the steep price.

Jamon Iberico does contain a healthy quantity of fat, but science has shown us that the majority of it does provide some rather surprising health benefits. The higher-grade Iberian pigs live on an acorn diet. The fats of these acorns make their merry way into the meat of the animal. It is said that the fat produced is similar to olive oil. The bright and vibrant yellow fat is why these pigs are known as 'the tree with four legs' in Spain.

The pigs are not on an acorn diet permanently, as the length of time that they can be on it is determined by law:

"To have the de bellota stamp, a certain percentage of the diet or a certain amount of years in their life has to be de bellota" Chef Montano (owner of Spanish restaurant, Otoño, in Los Angeles) explained.

This percentage is worked out when the pigs weigh 25kg, at which point the animal’s diet and fat content are assessed.

The genetic makeup of the pig can vary too, from animal to animal and this is how various breeds of the animal are made – by selective breeding. Only two types of animal can be bred to make this ham, and still be called Iberico ham: Iberian pigs or Duroc pigs. Qualifying pigs can be 100%, 75% or 50% Iberian as a result of the breeding with Duroc pigs.

 

The grade of the ham is easily identified

 While things can be confusing in the beginning, Spain has created a system that should make things easier to understand. The system uses coloured tags that simplify the process of identifying varying ham quality. There are four of these tags, and they are...

 

·         White: at least 50% Iberian, grain-fed

·         Green: at least 50% Iberian, grain and grass-fed

·         Red: at least 50% Iberian, acorn-fed

·         Black: 100% Iberian, acorn-fed

 

Other strict regulations, designed to protect the authenticity of Iberico ham, include the limiting of its production to a specific area of Spain known as the Dehesa (which means 'meadow'. This is a region full of fields that are rich in acorns that the pigs can feed on.

All of these restrictions help to ensure that the Jamon Iberico that is available in other parts of the world is not just authentic, but are just as high quality as the ham you can enjoy where it was imported from in Spain. It is also these limitations that help boost the cost of the ham, but it is more than worth it in our opinion.