Cured hams (hind extremities) and shoulders (fore extremities) from pure-bred Ibérico pigs, or cross-breeds with at least 75% Ibérico blood (pigs may only be bred with others from the Duroc-Jersey breed), brought up under the extensive rearing system, with a minimum production period of 18 months for hams and 12 months for shoulders.
Complex, intense and lingering flavor, with sweet notes dominating the savory hints, and an abundance of nuances including earthy touches and hints of nuts. When finely sliced the fat melts in the mouth, in particular with the Bellota (acorn-fed) category, strengthening its characteristic aroma and giving the product a firm texture that is, at the same time, tender.
Its external shape is long, stylized and profiled with the so-called “V” shape cut. The piece, which still has its hoof, must weigh no less than four and a half kilos (9.9 lbs), and shoulders must weigh three and a half kilos (7.7 lbs) or more. When sliced its color varies from pink to red/purple, with presence of yellow-white infiltrated fat in the muscle, aromatic and of varying consistency depending on the percentage of acorns included in the pig’s feed. It should have a maximum aqueous content of 50% on the outside and 55% in the middle, as well as a maximum of 5% sodium chloride content.
The Ibérico pigs arrive at the slaughterhouse at least 24 hours before they are slaughtered, in order to allow them to recover from the fatigue and stress of transport.
Once the extremities have been obtained, they are classified according to their weight. The fore extremities must have a minimum authorized weight of six kilos, and are classified into three groups:six to eight kilos (13.2 - 17.6 lbs), eight to 11 kilos (17.6 - 24.2 lbs) and more than 11 kilos (24.2 lbs). The fore extremities must have a minimum authorized weight of four kilos (9.9 lbs), and are classified into two groups:from four to five kilos (9.9 - 11 lbs) and more than five kilos (11 lbs).
The cut pieces are then kept for 36 to 48 hours at temperatures between 1 and 4ºC (33.8 to 39.2ºF).
The first stage of the production process is the salting. This involves incorporating common and nitrifying salts into the muscle, to encourage dehydration and the preservation of the pieces, contributing to the typical color and aroma of cured products. The process is carried out at a temperature of between 1 and 5ºC (33.8 and 41ºF), with relative humidity of approximately 80-90%. Salting time varies, and depends on the weight of the piece and the level of Iberian pig pureness. A rough guide is one day per kilo (2.2 lbs) of weight. Approximately halfway through the process the pieces are turned over, to make sure that the salt is evenly distributed.
The second stage involves washing the pieces in cold or lukewarm water, removing the salt from their surface.
Then comes the so called Rest period, which varies between 35 and 45 days. The pieces are left in rooms with temperatures between three and six degrees centigrade (37,4 and 42,8ºF) with relative humidity of 80 to 90% During this period which last 35 to 45 days the pieces are left to uniformly absorb the salt.
Then the hams and shoulders are then hung in natural curing warehouses with windows that can be programmed to open and close, thus controlling ventilation and ensuring optimal relative humidity and temperature conditions. During this stage the product continues to be gradually dried, and the fat is dispersed into the muscle fibers, thus retaining the product's natural aroma.
In the last stage (ageing) the pieces are moved to cellars, where they are hung up to mature. The biochemical processes initiated in the previous stage continue here, with the intervention of microbial flora that give the products its unique aroma and flavor. The piece's weight determines the length of time that it will remain in these cellars.
The production process lasts a minimum of 18 months for hams and 12 months for shoulders, depending on the weight and quality of the piece in question.
The PDO product is identified by a plastic seal and rear label, both numbered, which are red for Bellota quality products, green for Recebo and cream for the Pienso product.
Extremadura is crossed by three different mountain systems: to the north is the Central system, with the foothills of the Sierra de Gredos range; in the centre is the continuation of the Toledo Mountains between the Tajo and Guadiana Rivers; and to the south are the foothills of the Sierra Morena range.
The region's average altitude is 400 m (1,312 ft), and its highest peak is Calvitero (in the Sierra de Gredos), at 2,041 m (6,696 ft).
The majority of the soil in the province of Cáceres was formed on silicon material, mainly granite rocks and extensive areas of slate and arsenic. Soils in the province of Badajoz belong to the following categories: Entisols (recent, underdeveloped soils), Inceptisols (young soils, more developed), Alfisols (soils with moderate to high natural fertility) and Vertisols (soils with high clay content).
The area has a continental climate, with a moderate Atlantic influence. Annual average rainfall is 500 mm (19.7 in), reaching 1,200 mm (47.3 in) in the north-eastern mountains. On average, there are 77 overcast and 140 clear days per year. Average annual temperatures range from 16 to 17 ºC (60.8 to 62.6ºF), and fall below 10ºC (50ºF) in the northern area. Extreme temperatures of 41ºC (105.8ºF) are reached in July and August, with 3-4ºC (37.4 - 39.2ºF) in December and January. Average temperatures between summer and winter fluctuate by 16-17ºC (60.8 to 62.6ºF), with the frost-free period lasting from the end of February to mid-November.
The dehesas, wooded land filled with holm oak and/or oak trees where the Ibérico pig is reared in freedom, represent an area of Extremadura that covers almost one million ha (2.47 million acres).
Extremadura is bathed from east to west by two important rivers: the Tajo, in the province in Cáceres, and the Guadiana, in the province of Badajoz. The Tajo has an irregular flow, with a maximum of 350 m3 (1,148 cubic feet)/second in February and a minimum of 11m3 (36.1 cubic feet)/second in the months of August and September. The Guadiana has a length of 357.7 km (222.26 miles), within the province of Badajoz.
Consejo Regulador de la DOP Dehesa de Extremadura
Cánovas del Castillo, s/n, 2ª planta
06800 Mérida (Badajoz)
Tel: (+34) 924 330 203
- Spanish Ministry of Agriculture
The PDO product is identified by a plastic seal and rear label which are red for Bellota quality products, green for Recebo and cream for the Pienso product.