Regional differences between hams in our country

 

Iberian ham is by far the ambassador product of our country at international level. It is highly valued for its quality, tradition, and flavour. This is why there are strict regulations the so-called “Norma de Calidad del Jamón ibérico” (Iberian Ham Quality Standard), in terms of compliance with certain minimum standards in relation to the breed, the pig’s diet, the curing time, etc.

In Spain, there are several regions that have traditionally been dedicated to the production of this delicacy, and which have become widely known throughout the country and even beyond our borders.

These ham-producing areas have specific characteristics that give rise to different nuances of quality and flavour. Specifically, we must take into account: the geographical area, the climate, the vegetation, the type of extensive livestock farming, the different forms of production (more or less artisanal), the curing system, etc.

Thus, each of the areas has different peculiarities that add great value to the final result of the piece of ham. We are going to analyse the four most important regions, each of which has a Protected Designation of Origin.

Specifically:

In Huelva we find the Jabugo D.O.: In this area temperatures are usually mild and with an optimum level of humidity throughout the year, which favours the rhythm of the drying process. The production process of the companies in the area is still very traditional, and although modern sanitary controls and new technologies have helped to improve the quality of the products, the experience and meticulous attention of the master ham makers is still essential.

In the province of Salamanca, we have the D.O. of Guijuelo: in this area there are lower temperatures, which coincide with the curing phase, causing a less aggressive drying process and giving the ham a less intense flavour. Its production process is more industrialised, with many technological innovations.

– In Extremadura, we have the D.O. Dehesa de Extremadura: This is the area with the greatest temperature differences between winter and summer, with mild winters and very hot summers.  Its production processes are, together with the ones carried out in D.O. Jabugo, the most traditional in Spain, with a premium on care, tradition, and patience.

In Cordoba we have the D.O. Los Pedroches: Its climate is even more abrupt than in Extremadura in terms of seasons, with cold winters and hot summers, but on the positive side, rainfall is not very frequent, which contributes to the drying process of pieces. Its production process mixes tradition with innovative techniques.

Where in Spain is ham produced?

 

Although we are talking about Iberian ham, it is important to point out that in Spain there is also a diversity of geographical areas where Serrano ham is also produced.

The main differences between Serrano and Iberian ham are: the breed of pigs, the type of feed and the production processes used to obtain the ham.

The main producing areas of Serrano ham are: Teruel, Trévelez (Granada) and Serón (Almería).

The main areas where Iberian ham is produced are: Jabugo (Huelva), Guijuelo (Salamanca), Extremadura and Los Pedroches (Córdoba).

 

What characteristics must a region have to produce a good ham?

 

In our opinion, Spanish Iberian hams are the best cured hams in the world, and this supremacy is fundamentally due to the breed of the Iberian pig and the free-range diet based on acorns.

The Spanish regions that concentrate the production of Iberian ham, apart from Guijuelo, are located in the south of Spain, all of them dehesa areas. Let us see why:

  • Specific climate: It must have an optimum temperature and humidity. These are key to the drying process. It’s very different seasons and abrupt temperature changes, without being extreme, contribute decisively to the curing process.
  • Vegetation: The Dehesa, needs a specific climate and characteristics to have a forest of holm oaks, cork oaks or gall oaks. These are the trees that produce the acorns that will be used to fatten the animal and form a key environment for the development of Iberian ham. They are used for extensive livestock farming, where the animals are reared freely.
  • Production process: Although it is true that nowadays there are countless technological means that can help or complement the production process, it is undeniable that a product as traditional as Iberian ham needs the hand of tradition and experience.
  • Tradition: In these areas, the know-how of the master ham makers has been passed down from generation to generation, together with that of the traditional livestock farmers, experts in the breeding of this exceptional animal.

Characteristics

Jabugo, with worldwide recognition:

The town of Jabugo is in the south of Spain, in the province of Huelva, in Andalusia. The Jabugo D.O. does not only include the hams produced in the village of Jabugo, but in many other villages around Jabugo, all within the so-called Sierra de Huelva, such as Cortegana, Aracena, …. The high quality of Jabugo acorn-fed Iberian ham is, together with Guijuelo, the most internationally renowned. The Jabugo D.O. formerly known as Denominación de Origen Jamón de Huelva, changed its name to Denominación de Origen Jabugo in 2009, in recognition of the name with which the ham from this area had been distinguished throughout the world.

These are its main characteristics:

  • 100% Iberian acorn-fed ham: this is the name given to hams from animals with 100% genetic purity of the Iberian breed, whose progenitors also have 100% Iberian racial purity and are registered in the corresponding genealogical book”. According to the Official State Gazette. To achieve the acorn designation, the pigs must have spent at least the last two months prior to slaughter in the “montanera”, feeding on acorns.
  • Intense flavour: Jabugo ham is characterised by a stronger and less fruity flavour than other acorn-fed Iberian hams.
  • Geographical area: Sierra de Huelva. The area is situated at an average altitude of 572 metres above sea level and is characterised by a mid-mountain landscape.
  • Climate: It is characterised by a very specific climate, with very specific conditions of humidity and temperature, in order to obtain optimum results. The area enjoys cool summers and not very abrupt temperature changes.

These climatological characteristics bring significant benefits to the ham, such as the specific level of humidity in its drying rooms.

  • Vegetation: The Sierra de Huelva is an area of dehesas. The pigs are reared in ‘dehesas’, large tracts of holm oak or cork oak woodland, fattened on grass and acorns.
  • Extensive livestock farming: animals reared in the wild, in large enough areas of land to provide them with natural food (basically acorns, fruit and grass from the Dehesa), which will give them their characteristic flavour.

In this sense, Juan Pedro Domecq is a benchmark brand among producers of 100% Iberian acorn-fed acorn-fed ham. Let us see why:

  • A pig with its own personality:

We breed unique pigs:

  • Not only 100% Iberian: In addition, within the Iberian breed, our pigs are mamellados lampiños, a practically extinct variety, selected by the founder of the company as the best for the production of acorn-fed Iberian ham.
  • Not only “de bellota”: pigs reared in free range in the “dehesas” for almost 18 months (from the time they are piglets), and 4 of them in “montanera”, far beyond the requirements of the quality standard.
  • A unique product:

*For its exclusivity: A production limited to 3,000 pigs per year allows a selection and quality control, impossible on a large scale.

*For its flavour: Pure breed, free-range rearing and natural feed, the taste of free and wild animals.

*For its long curing period: our hams have an average curing period of 42 months, reaching up to 52 months, far beyond the requirements of the standard.

*For its quality: The direct presence in the complete production cycle is a guarantee of the most exhaustive quality control.

*For its homogeneity: limited production and exhaustive quality control make homogeneity one of our strong points.

**International recognition: In recognition of this work and this commitment to quality, Juan Pedro Domecq has been awarded by the Great Taste Awards every year since 2012 with different prizes; the most prestigious in Europe in gourmet food.

 

Guijuelo:

Guijuelo is in the province of Salamanca, where many companies dedicated to the Iberico industry are concentrated. The area has an enormous dependence on the Iberian world, which has come to represent 65% of the activity of the active population of the region.

These are its main characteristics:

  • 75% Iberian ham: this is the name given to hams from 100% Iberian breed females registered in the stud book and males from the cross between a 100% Iberian breed mother and a 100% Duroc breed father, both registered in the corresponding stud book of the breed.
  • Sweeter flavour: The ham from this area is not very salty, with a touch of sweetness. Its meat is pinker in colour and its fat has a certain beige-golden colour.
  • Geographical area: It is found in the area in and around the province of Salamanca, in the Sierra de Béjar and Gredos.
  • Climate: The climate is continental Mediterranean. It is characterised by cold, dry winters and mild, not very long summers, characteristics that favour an optimum drying and ripening process.
  • Vegetation: The area of Guijuelo is about a thousand metres above sea level and agglutinates large forests of holm oaks and cork oaks and a mountainous landscape.

 

Dehesa de Extremadura:

Main characteristics:

  • Ham 75% Iberian to 100%: 100% Iberian pigs are used, but also 75% Iberian pigs born in the area.
  • Geographical area: It is located in the area of Cáceres and Badajoz, including, Sierra de San Pedro, Sierra de Montanchez, Cáceres-Gredos Sur, Ibor-Villuercas and Sierras del Suroeste de Badajoz.
  • Climate: It is cold in winter and dry, which provides an excellent environment for the natural curing process.
  • Vegetation: This area of Extremadura enjoys some of the best dehesas in Spain, large fields populated with holm oaks, olive trees and oaks and with great local flora such as rosemary, rockrose and thyme, which contributes to the good nutrition of the acorn-fed Iberian pig.

Los Pedroches:

Characteristics:

  • 100% pure Iberian pigs.
  • They are characterised by very juicy and shiny meat and fat.
  • Geographical area: In the north of the province of Cordoba, also an area of holm oaks, cork oaks and gall oaks.
  • Climate: The climate of the area is warm, Mediterranean with cold winters and hot summers. The average temperature is around 18º-19º. Rainfall is not very frequent, which contributes to the drying process of the pieces.
  • Vegetation: The Dehesa is intentionally transformed by hand to obtain more benefits from nature (acorns, firewood, picón…), eliminating most of the bushes.