Arturo Sánchez: the Ibérico Ham That Embodies the Dehesa and Innovation
Craftsmanship, respect for the environment, defense of the Ibérico pork, a double montanera period and a clear commitment to the utmost quality; these are some of the values of Spanish company Arturo Sánchez, which sells its Ibérico bellota hams in numerous countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia. We journey into its 'dehesas' and 'secaderos' to find out the secrets of its succes.
Text: Rodrigo García /©iCEX
There are two magical words that shine brightly when talking about pure bellota Ibérico ham: dehesa and montanera. The dehesa is a unique natural ecosystem in the world, only present in some regions of Spain and areas of Portugal, where Ibérico pigs live in freedom and feast on acorns during a period known as the montanera; both key aspects for obtaining an exceptional final product.
Arturo Sánchez, a company with roots in the town of Guijuelo (Salamanca) is a pioneer in committing to a double montanera and extending the lives of its Ibérico pigs. We spoke with Ricardo Sánchez, the company's adjunct director, to truly savor the past, present and future of this family company with an international vocation.
One of the special things that characterizes Arturo Sánchez is that all of the company’s Ibérico pigs undergo two montanera periods. When did the company implement this practice?
All of our 100% and 75% Ibérico pigs go through two montaneras. The history of how we implemented this method goes back to the 1990s, when a group of pigs didn't make the minimum permissible weight in time for slaughter, so we decided to leave them for another year. We were convinced that the result would be some excellent hams and, when they were sold, we realized that their quality was in fact superior to that of the others.
Using this precedent, we began trying to convince our livestock breeders to change the entire system. This was a big struggle, where only those breeders who wanted to make the very finest product stayed with us, in spite of the fact that this implied a greater effort, organization and more hectares of dehesa.
The result is that, upon beginning the second montanera, the pigs are 100% mature, they are adult animals that make the most of this period of eating acorns and grasses, which is why we colloquially call them the "buey del ibérico" (Ibérico oxen). Another of the objectives achieved through this method is the ability to balance a poorer montanera with a better one, yielding a much more stable quality overall.
Arturo Sánchez has collaboration agreements with chefs of recognized prestige like Andoni Luis Aduriz, Mario Sandoval and Paco Pérez. What do these collaborations consist of?
The goal of these collaborations is to join forces so that, through innovation, fresh and cured Ibérico pork can be better known both inside Spain and beyond our borders. We provide (people) with a product of exceptional quality, which is also environmentally sustainable and unique in the world, and (the chefs) use their voices and ability to innovate to demonstrate its potential and explain what Ibérico pork really is, what its relationship is with the dehesa, why it is a healthy food, and why all Ibérico products are not the same... and, of course, how to prepare and enjoy it!
Another of our lines of work is the valuation of the by-products of Ibérico pork: from the offal to the bones and ham fat. Our objective, without a doubt, is zero waste.
One of the company’s maxims is to look after its artisanal legacy. In which phases of the elaboration process of Arturo Sánchez’s Ibérico hams can we appreciate this craftsmanship?
As incredible as it may seem, the make process for our cured Ibérico continues to be 100% artisanal, regardless of the fact that it is carried out in factories that have been completely modernized and certified to export to half the world. From the moment we hang each ham, or season and hand-stuff the best pieces of Ibérico pork to make our sausages, until the moment they go on sale, the only calendar that we understand is that each piece needs personalized controls and it is only ready when those in charge of monitoring the pieces say that they are.
Our secret? To meticulously control the quantity of salt used on the hams in order to preserve the nuances that come from spending two years of life in freedom and (consuming) twice as many acorns. We approach each year as if we were dealing with a wine, allowing it to express the nuances and complexities which would be spoiled by bad curing.
One of the pillars of the company’s strategy is a commitment to research, innovation and development. What are the main actions that have been carried out by the company in collaboration with the CSIC (Spanish National Research Council)?
Our collaboration with the CIAL (Institute of Food Science Research) – CSIC was based on proving the antioxidant capacity of Ibérico ham after two montaneras. It was important for us to know if, in addition to tasting better, it was also healthier. This project spanned several months and involved the analysis of multiple samples, but we are proud of the fact that the laboratory results proved what we had already suspected: in addition to being a more succulent ham, ours is also a healthier one.
As regards export, where are Arturo Sánchez’s products sold?
With respect to export, we are working very well in Europe and this year we have begun working in the United States, Mexico, Thailand and Cambodia. Our principal export markets continue to be Italy and France, and we are very excited about the reception that our ham has received in America and Asia. Additionally, Hong Kong and Japan are countries that have expanded very much this year, for example.
In terms of export, what are the most important channels for Arturo Sánchez, HORECA or specialty shops? Have you had positive experiences exporting through the online channel?
In the international sector, the majority of sales are generated in chains of gourmet shops. For example, one of our best customers is the chain of Eataly shops in Italy. We are the only Ibérico ham on store shelves as well as in the delicatessen. We are proud of working with these establishments, which are a reference for gourmet gastronomy on a global level.
On the other hand, the Horeca sector is getting stronger all the time. In Asia we work mainly with haute cuisine restaurants, including some with Michelin stars. In the United States, a market that we entered only recently, we work with specialty shops, restaurants and luxury resorts.
We are not currently managing the online channel ourselves. We don't have our own gourmet store, but in Europe, like in America and Asia, we do have customers that sell online, to much success.
Translation: Adrienne Smith/@ICEX
"Our secret? To meticulously control the quantity of salt used on the hams in order to preserve the nuances that come from spending two years of life in freedom and (consuming) twice as many acorns."