Ibérico pork meat

The Ibérico breed of pigs is native to the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, and has evolved throughout the centuries so that today it is represented by several genetic lines. Their special characteristics (morphology, genetics, diet…) cause the animals to develop infiltrations of fat in their muscles and under the skin, which gives them the particular quality which is recognized all over the world. Their diet consists basically of acorns from holm oak and cork oak trees and grasses from the wooded pastures known as dehesas throughout the regions of Castile-Leon, Andalusia and Extremadura, where the pigs graze and roam in semi-liberty.

Tasting notes

The meat from the Ibérico pig has infiltrated fat in the muscles, which gives it an exceptional texture and flavor.

Other notes

Each of the different cuts of meat from the Ibérico pig has a different size, shape and fat concentration.

Production / Processing method

Today in Spain the 'Quality Standard for Ibérico meat, leg, shoulder and loin' establishes the quality characteristics required of the products resulting from the butchering of the dressed animal and which are sold fresh, including Iberico leg, shoulder, and loin sold in Spain, in order to be able to use the designations of sale defined according to the breed and feeding regime.

According to this Standard, two designations are established for each breed of animal considered as the raw material:

- Pure Ibérico: from a pure Iberico sire and dam, registered in the genealogical record.

- Ibérico: from an Ibérico or pure Ibérico dam.

There are another four designations according to the animals' feeding regime in the period immediately prior to the slaughter:

- Acorn-fed, or terminated in the natural environment (a period of weeks during which the pigs graze in the open air in the dehesa and feed on grasses and acorns and other natural resources, without being given any supplementary feed).

- Cereal-fed or cereal-fed in the final stage (after reaching a minimum weight in the natural environment, the pig is fattened with additional feed, basically comprising cereals and leguminous plants. - Supplementary feed in the natural environment (the feeding of the pig is based on feed made from cereals and leguminous vegetables and this diet is supplemented by a period in the natural environment of a minimum of 60 days, during which time it is also given a diet based on feed).

- Feed (until the weight at slaughter is attained, the pigs are fed a diet is based on cereals and leguminous vegetables).

The main cuts of Ibérico pork are:

Castañuela (Castanets):
Also known as castañetas, the castañuelas are found in the jaw and are the salivary glands of the pig. Each head has two (there are also other salivary glands and the thyroid gland, but these are not eaten). What is interesting about these parts is their glandular texture, which is similar to that of sweetbreads, and their corresponding fat. In the areas where the pigs are raised, they have always been highly valued, but their small size makes them difficult to find.
Weight: 50-60 g / 2 oz, the smallest cut, together with the sorpresa.
Location: the salivary glands of the pig, in the jaw.

Carrillera (cheeks):
The carrillera is formed from the muscles of the lower jaw, which are used for movement and chewing. The muscle fibers are interlaced, giving a distinctive texture. It is one of the least fatty cuts from the pig.
Weight: 100 g / 3 1/2 oz.
Location: in the head, the muscles attached to the lower jaw.

Lagarto (Lizard):
This is a long strip of meat found between the chuleta and the lomo next to the spine. It is very succulent, with similar eating qualities to the lomo, although it is smaller and lighter.
Weight: from 150 to 250 g / 5 1/2 to 9 oz
Location: next to the spine, between the ribs and the loin.

Lomo (Loin):
The lomo is one of the noble cuts of an Ibérico pig. It is a large, long muscle joined to the spine. It is valued highly for its juiciness, texture and flavor, and its fat content is sufficient but not excessive. Traditionally the lomo was used for cured products (such as lomo embuchado or caña de lomo), but it is also magnificent fresh. In Spain, the so-called cinta de lomo is very popular.
Weight: between 1 and 1.5 kilos / 2 1/4 lb y 3 lb 5 oz.
Location: muscle joined to the spine.

Pluma (Top Loin):
The pluma is joined to the back of the loin and, although it is smaller, it has similar qualities. Its name comes from its flat triangular shape, which is similar to a feather or a wing. It has a wonderful texture and a perfect balance between meat and fat. It has only recently started to be eaten fresh, as it was, until recently, most traditional to include it when making lomo embuchado.
Weight: between 80 and 100 g / 3 and 3 1/2 oz.
Location: joined to the back, outside of the loin.

Presa (Shoulder Loin):
The presa is part of the head of the loin and is found at the top of the paletilla. Due to the marbling of fat, this is one of the most delicious parts of the Ibérico pig. The presa, or presa de paleta as it is also known, consists of layers of muscle alternating with layers of fatty muscle, which gives it its unique marbling.
Weight: around 500 g / 1 lb 2 oz
Location: at the head of the loin, above the paletilla.

Secreto (Fore Loin):
The secreto is a fan-shaped muscle from the back, in front of the fat of the loin. It is a very fine leaf of muscle, which is very difficult to see when the fat is sliced through vertically. However, when the muscle is sliced horizontally, this hidden fillet appears, hence its name, “secret”. Of all the cuts, this is the fattiest, and as a result it is full of flavor. Together with the presa this has been one of the most successful cuts over the last few years. However, there are also two pieces of meat, the secreto de papada (dewlap) and a cut from the belly (secreto de barriga), which are known as the “falso secreto” (false secret) as a result of their similar appearance and fat structure, although these are not as tender as the true secreto.

Solomillo (Tenderloin):
This has traditionally been the most popular cut for eating fresh, although it now shares this distinction with other cuts. It is found in the interior of the lomo, in the sub-lumbar area.
Weight: 300 g / 10 1/2 oz
Location: in the sub-lumbar region, from the interior part of the loin.

Sorpresa (Surprise):
Often called the third carrillera. This is found in the head in the eye sockets underneath the eye. They are two small oval balls of flesh which, as they are very fibrous, are used in stews.
Weight: 40 g / 1 1/2 oz
Location: in the head, underneath the eyes.

But the culinary use of the pig is not restricted to these cuts, as there are other parts of the pig that are very popular and that have traditionally been used in the kitchen. These include the lengua (tongue, used in stews and for meat products), the papada (a 5 kg / 11 lb piece with a lot of fat and characteristic marbling from the dewlap, which is delicious whether fresh, cured or salted), the pestorejo or careta (consisting of the ear, snout and upper lip), the costillas (ribs, 2.5 kg / 5 lb 10 oz of meat and bone next to the diaphragm), of which each animal has two and which are highly succulent due to their fat content, the gelatinous rabo (tail) and, of course, the tocino (back fat), which covers the majority of the pig.

Geography / Relief and climate:

The dehesa ecosystem extends throughout the center and southwest of Spain and covers the provinces of Castile-Leon, Extremadura, Castile-La Mancha and Andalusia. The climatic characteristics of the dehesa are typical of an inland Mediterranean climate. There is a marked variation in temperatures between the winter and summer, with more less regular precipitation during winter and spring.

In general the soils in the Mediterranean climate are usually grayish-brown, Mediterranean-type or limestone, not very developed and rather thin. The dehesa is found basically in areas of low-lying scrubland with poorly developed soils.

Ibérico pork meat