Joselito Ibérico Ham, Celebrating 150 Years
150 years of history. Not many companies in the food industry can claim a similar feat, particularly if you take into the account the renown of this brand that crossed borders years ago. José Gómez, the CEO of Joselito, talked with Foods and Wines from Spain about the keys to international success for one of the most recognized emblems of this 100% Spanish product, Ibérico ham.
Trips, presentations, management, decisions... when you stop for five minutes to think about the fact that you run a 150-year-old company, what goes through your head? Vertigo, satisfaction, success, more challenges to come?
Pride and a great sense of responsibility. On the one hand, you feel proud to form an active part of a family company with 150 years of history. A company that made history in this industry by defending a set of values that have helped us grow under the banner of maximum quality.
Our values are no secret: the search for excellence in everything we do, the defense of the Mediterranean forest or dehesa (the natural habitat for Joselito’s Ibérico pigs), a singular product, and one that is 100% natural (with no preservatives, additives, gluten, lactose, heavy metals, etc.) With these foundations [the important thing is] hard work and having the finest team of professionals by your side.
And, on the other hand, this requires you to take on a great deal of responsibility. This is not a job that you can just do part of the time. At Joselito, we dedicate an entire lifetime to it, and we are now the sixth generation to do so. One works to maintain a legacy and certain values and, faced with this, it is important to feel that everything you are doing must go towards the next 150 years of Joselito.
Proof of this is our planting of hundreds of thousands of trees over the years. These are trees that neither my generation, nor the next, will enjoy. But this is the correct path, to think of things in the long term and to act responsibly. Or, at least, this is the only path that we want to follow at Joselito.
Your products are known pretty much all over the world. How does it feel to see them in the best stores and restaurants in cities like Hong Kong, London, Tokyo and Singapore, among others?
It is hugely satisfying to see the fruits of our labor so well represented in the world’s best establishments. We have introduced Joselito Ibérico ham to the world as a gastronomic jewel, comparable to wild caviar or white truffles from Alba; a world that wasn't familiar with Ibérico bellota ham, or that knew anything about our culture. And when one is a pioneer, they can't limit themselves to selling a product, rather they must teach people about it. We have to explain everything that is behind our ham: the history of our country, the culture of salt-curing that dates back to the 1st and 2nd centuries, from the Roman emperors Hadrian and Trajan, a culture closely tied to pigs in every corner of Spain, six generations of a family making the finest ham in the most traditional way, a 100% Ibérico ham that is natural and unique, and values that go far beyond the product.
Joselito ham is a jewel, but like all jewels, it needs to be understood, and therefore consumers need to comprehend its history, how to carve it, store it and taste it... Basic concepts that a British or Japanese person has no reason to know, but that are in fact essential. This is where a large part of our efforts abroad are targeted, in creating a school around Joselito.
During your career, have you seen a change in how international customers perceive Ibérico ham? How would you summarize this evolution?
As positive. We have advanced a lot in terms of showing and making people understand all that is behind a Joselito ham, but we still have a lot to do. The French and Italians have a lifetime advantage over us because they've always been very well positioned in the markets, and they have been very good at selling their important products, while it has been harder for us in Spain.
For example, when Joselito began exporting more than thirty years ago, people didn't know what Ibérico bellota ham was. They didn't know anything about it, but Italian Parma or San Daniele hams were products that already had a presence all over the world. Through determination, we have managed to get Joselito into the best restaurants and gourmet stores, but we would be making a mistake to conform ourselves to that. Robert Parker, the most famous guru in the wine industry once remarked: “Joselito is the greatest culinary treasure in Spain and one of the finest natural products in the world.” And when one has such a treasure, it is their responsibility to share it with the international market.
What importance does the company Cárnicas Joselito give to the question of sustainability, a value that is gaining in importance, particularly on the international stage?
It is part of Joselito’s DNA. In the course of these 150 years, we have always understood that taking care of our surroundings – the Mediterranean forest, the dehesa – is of fundamental importance to us. We are a unique, 100% natural product and, as such, we are subject to the climate and our environment. To only think in the short-term and to exploit the Mediterranean forest would be tantamount to attacking our own values and own family. Allowing our animals to roam in freedom – with plus or minus three hectares per pig (7.4 acres) – planting 70,000 holm oaks a year, not using any preservatives or chemical additives, among many other things, is our way of being, but it is also our way of preserving an ecosystem that can only be found in Spain and a few hamlets in Portugal.
It is true that, internationally, the fact that we are a 100% natural, sustainable and singular product is highly valued. The Japanese market takes these aspects very seriously and they know how difficult it is, for example, for a product not to contain any heavy metals. That is why we have carried out hundreds of research projects to demonstrate this fact. When our customers understand that they are enjoying a unique, 100% natural product, all of our efforts and sacrifices are worth it.
Joselito opts to associate its products with the luxury sector. What does this concept of luxury mean for Joselito?
We understand that Joselito ham is unique, of utmost quality and that it is a luxury item for many reasons. First of all because making a Joselito ham is a very complicated task, since it is subjected to a meticulous cycle that takes a minimum of three years, but that can take up to thirteen years in the case of some of Joselito Vintage hams. There are many factors that intervene in this process, and therefore it is important to be excellent and very meticulous throughout.
Furthermore, thanks to our way of understanding both the pig and the ham, our production is limited, as it depends on external factors like climate. Joselito is the only ham that is sold by vintage. Every year is different and unique, and therefore tasting [the ham] is an experience. If to this you add a herd of pigs that have been reared in freedom, and a 100% natural elaboration process, the result will be a singular and excellent product that can stand face to face with the greatest culinary treasures.
Translation: Adrienne Smith/@ICEX.