A few weeks ago I was contacted by people from the IBEHAM Project and asked if I would like to learn more about and sample some of their Iberian ham (Jamón Ibérico) from Guijuelo a municipality located in the province of Salamanca, and then share my experience with the readers of my blog and on social media. Since I had the pleasure of having tasted Iberican ham before and are aware of its rather unique qualities, I agreed and was kindly sent two different varities - the Jamón de Bellota and the Jamón de Cebo de Campo.
The Jamón Ibérico (as opposed to the Jamón Serrano) comes from a certified Iberian breed of pigs that varies significantly from pigs found elsewhere. Ibérico pigs are reared in freedom, roaming the meadows foraging for acorns (from the holm oaks and cork oaks) as well as herbs and grasses, building their muscles and thereby facilitating the permeation of fat into their flesh. Their special diet gives their meat that uniquely characteristic taste. Ibérico pigs yield hams that are streaked with glossy marbling fat. The texture of the ham is remarkably soft. Due to high percentage of healthy mono unsaturated fat within the meat, slices of Ibérico ham glisten when served at room temperature.
Many centuries ago, the rulers of western Spain decreed that each town and village should create pastures studded with oak trees, called the 'Dehesa'. During the spring and summer, cattle grazes the fields, during the fall and winter when the holm and cork oaks provide acorns (bellota) that fall from the trees, the Iberian pigs are released to fatten up. Iberico pigs love acorns. Each pig can eat 10 kilos of acorns a day. When the pigs destined to be Bellota hams are released onto the Dehesa at the age of about 10 months they weigh in about 200 pounds each, after 3 to 4 months of the period known as the ‘montanera’ each pig roughly doubles its weight. The pigs destined to be Cebo hams, on the other hand are grain fed for the same length of time. In Spain, there are only four regions that are allowed to produce Iberico ham (both the Bellota as well as the Cebo) – Huelva, Los Pedroches, Extremadura and Guijuelo.
To prepare the hams for consumption, it has to go through a rather elaborate process of salting, washing, post-salting, natural curing and ageing, which can take anywhere form two to five years. This extraordinarily long curing process is possible because of the huge amount of fat on each ham and, in the case of the Bellota hams, the antioxidant quality of their diets. Over the curing period the hams lose nearly half their weight as the fat drips away. The ultimate result is meat that is dark red and well marbled.
When buying Iberician ham make sure to look for the so-called Quality Guarantee – a seal, label and special stamp. The PDO Guijeulo seals and labels guarantee the traceability of an Iberian pork product from animals that are raised, fed, processed and cured under the stringent quality controls. All producers have to meet those high standards before their product can be sold.
The people fom the IBEHAM Project sent me both a red label and a green label sample with the red being acorn-fed (Bellota) 75% Iberian, and the green being grain-fed (Cebo de Campo) 75% Iberian. When we tasted the two well marbled hams, at room temperature, the Bellota tasted somewhat more complex, with a slightly more rounded, nutty flavor, the Cebo de Campo, was a bit less complex and with a higher percentage of fat – yet both were absolutely amazing.
Iberian ham is considered to be part of the well-known Mediterranean diet – thanks to the feeding and breeding conditions of the pigs, the ham is rich in healthy fats, vitamins and proteins. And I must say that it defintively has a complex, intense flavor, with a note of sweetness that is truly unparalleled.
The European Stamp of Distinguished Quality (PDO: Protected Designation of Origin) marks Iberian ham out and confers a distinction of excellence with respect to other Iberian products, sharing a series of values and attributes that differentiate and protect them from lower-quality imitations: deep rooted in the environment and the ecosystem; 100% natural product; traditional production methods and quality control systems that are guaranteed by law and performed by independent inspectors.
The PDO Guijuelo is made up of family businesses, many of whom are third and fourth generation producers, that are engaged in producing a unique product that meets the most demanding quality standards.
Having tasted those wonderful Iberian hams, I realized, again, how very delicious they are, with their rich and nutty flavor, they are certainly a real treat. Thanks very much to the Ibeham project for having given me this chance not only to taste the hams but also to be able to incorporate them in a number of wonderful recipes.
Above I share pictures of my Salsify with Tomato Chili Oil with Jamón Ibérico de Cebo de Campo Topping – a delicious seasonal and regional winter vegetable, with a bit of heat from the chili, sweetness from the tomatoes and delightful bits of Iberican ham - a truly wonderful combination of flavors. And below, I share my recipe for a New Potato, Spinach and Pea Frittata with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Topping - also seasonal, although more on the spring side of recipes - comforting, delicious and a perfect vessel for the amazing topping of Bellota ham.
New Potato, Spinach & Pea Frittata with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Topping
For the Frittata
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 spring onions, finely sliced
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 150g (5½ oz) baby spinach leaves, washed and picked through with some water still clinging to the leaves
- 500g (1 lb 2 oz) cooked new potatoes, sliced (I used red skinned variety)
- 100g fresh OR frozen peas (small ones)
- 8 eggs (M), free range or organic
- 1 tbsp, fresh basil (washed, dried and chopped)
- 2 tsp fresh chives (washed, dried and finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp fresh flat-leaved (Italian) parsley, (washed, dried and chopped)
- salt & freshly ground black pepper
For the Topping
- a few slices Iberico ham (I used Jamón Ibérico de Bellota)
- some well drained caper berries and fresh herb blossoms (optional)
- Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (395°F).
- Heat the olive oil on medium heat in a large frying pan with a flameproof handle and sauté the spring onions and the crushed garlic for 3 minutes, or until they have softened.
- Add the spinach and continue frying for 2 minutes, or until the spinach has wilted. Then add the peas and cook for another 5 minutes. Then stir in the potatoes and heat through.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the basil, chives and parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, reduce the heat and cook for a few minutes over a medium to low heat and allow the mixture to set slowly without stirring until the egg begins to set.
- Transfer the pan tot he pre-heated oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until set and golden.
- Once the frittata has cooled to room temperature, turn it out onto a wooden board and cut the frittata into wedges, then top with a few slices of Iberico ham, caper berries (or you could use green olives here) and and herb blossoms. Serve straight away.
- NOTE: make sure to cook the egg mixture over a medium to low heat and allow the mixture to set slowly without stirring. Stirring once the eggs have begun to set will break the mixture apart. Too high a heat will burn the base before the egg mixture is set sufficiently to be finished in the oven.
One last note, during my research on Jamón Ibérico I learned that it is advisable to serve this ham at room temperature, not cold from the fridge, that way the complex flavors of this carefully produced natural product will have a chance to fully develop – so wether you serve the ham as paper thin slices on a plate, as part of a mezze spread or as a topping to a Frittata, make sure to let the ham come to room temperature before enjoying it - sometimes this delicate Iberican ham is also served on a pre-warmed serving plater, glistening and shiny, giving this product a chance to develop its complex flavors.
Thank you, again, to the kind people at the IBEHAM Project for sending me these wonderful samples of Jamón Ibérico (Bellota as well as Cebo de Campo) from Guijuelo - for more information about the ham, the cooperation with the European Union and the project itself, pls go here http://www.dehesandham.eu/en - although I was provided with samples, pls note that the above opinions are my entirely my own.