Christmas is a time to enjoy the best foods - and that means jamón Ibérico! We talk to Santiago Fermín from Embutidos Fermín on what makes this such a special holiday treat.
The holidays are a time to indulge in the very best foods and wines to share with family, friends and loved ones. For many in Spain (and beyond), that includes the famous Spanish cured ham from acorn-fed Iberico pigs - jamón Ibérico de bellota. Back in 2005, Embutidos Fermín, a Salamanca based family business stretching back generations, became the first USDA organic certified company to import Iberico pork meat to the United States. Their jamón Ibérico product caught the eye of chef José Andrés and it became the first jamón Ibérico to be served in his Washington DC restaurant, Jaleo. You can also find their jamón ibérico at Mercado Little Spain, NYC, as well as many other gourmet purveyors across the country. So, what makes jamón ibérico such a specialty worthy of a Christmas spread? We speak to Santiago Fermín from Embutidos Fermín, to learn more about it.
“The Iberico pig is an important species that is native to the Iberian peninsula and is accustomed to living in the countryside, La Dehesa. These are the acorn-fed Iberico pigs that live in the oak pasturelands in the south and southwest of Spain. In the last two, three, or four months of their lives they graze in these oakland areas on acorns until they reach the ideal size to make jamón Ibérico - this usually happens between January and March. Jamón Ibérico de bellota is what we get from this type of farming and the leg is the most important part. There is very little actual process involved in achieving this quality product - we just need salt and time to create the best jamón Ibérico. We simply take the leg, put it in sea salt and then, under the correct curing conditions, the slow process of dehydration and maturing takes place over a minimum of three years. The resulting jamón Ibérico is therefore totally natural and exemplifies a quality pork product. During the Christmas season in Spain, we tend to consume the best foods that we can - such as jamón, seafood and turrón or even Cava but, above all, jamón ibérico gives that special touch.”
Do you consider jamón Ibérico to be a great holiday gift in the USA?
“The most typical Christmas gift given in Spain is jamón Ibérico. If you really want to show you care, jamón Ibérico is genuinely a gift of friendship from a cultural point of view. In the USA we have been importing jamón Ibérico for 15 years and we see that the perception is now the same - as it belongs in a higher category of jamón, consumers consider this to be a special item that makes a stupendous gift at Christmas time. The culture surrounding this gourmet category is assimilating here also.”
Have you seen an increase in the popularity of jamón Ibérico during the festivities or are there any other trends that you have noticed in the last few years?
“When we started importing jamón Ibérico into the USA, we didn’t expect that sales would become higher at Christmas time like in Spain. But, over time, people have started to value this product as a Christmas gift. Although in Spain the jamón Ibérico culture goes further in terms of its maestro ham cutters, in the USA there is not as much focus on this outside of Spanish restaurants. The knowledge of how to cut jamón Ibérico is obviously better understood in homes in Spain than in the USA. However, following the pandemic, when a lot of restaurants here had to close, the consumer started buying more jamón Ibérico to be able to have it at home.”
For those who would like to include jamón Ibérico in their festivities - how would you advise them to present it in a memorable way?
“Well, the most authentic way to consume jamón Ibérico is by cutting it straight from the leg with a knife. You don’t have to be a complete expert to do this, however, it should be cut finely enough so that it can melt in your mouth. Understandably, not everyone has access to a leg of jamón and is able to cut it at their home but, thankfully, the modernized packaging of jamón Ibérico allows for it to preserve its just-cut freshness, with practically the same aromas and flavors.”
And, finally, now that we are in the holiday season, do you have any suggestions for combining jamón Ibérico with other foods or festive drinks?
“In traditional Spain, jamón Ibérico should be served with some fresh country-style bread and a glass of red wine with body, such as DO Ribera del Duero or DOC Rioja - it should be a wine with body but also barrel-aged to harmonize well with an aged jamón Ibérico. In modern times we also pair jamón Ibérico with a good DO Cava reserva or gran reserva. The celebrated chef José Andrés created a tapa using jamón Ibérico with caviar in the center - if you like surf ‘n’ turf!”
Thanks to Santiago Fermín for the tips - maybe it’ll be jamón Ibérico stocking fillers and gifts!