Friday, July 10, 2009

The Origin of Jamon Bellota: Iberian pig

The Iberian pig is a unique animal that inhabits the south west of Spain and it is bred in freedom and fed alone with acorns and herbs from the meadows where it lives. This way of breeding produces a delicate result: the meat from this pigs has the aroma or the acorns and the continuous exercise of the animal to search for its foods makes of it a muscular animal which fibers have a more uniform distribution of the fat giving it its delicious flavor.
After 10 months of life they are used for reproduction and on their 3 or 4 year they are castrated and fattened for the slaughter. They are believed to be of black skin but nowadays, the black variety is the minority and a red one is the predominant.
Till the second half of the 20th century, the Iberian pig was used for provisions or supplies, without any special considerations. Until the 1970’s the market requested mainly fresh meat, tender and with little fat. This provoked a crisis for the Iberian race which was about to be mixed with ordinary pigs to make it more commercial. Fortunately this never happened as in the middle of this troubled times the traditional Iberian products (ham, forelegs and sausages) began to get recognition in the meat markets. This sudden attention developed into such a strong tendency that some farmers dropped the traditional method and commenced the industrial breeding of the Iberian pig (the extreme result of this practice was that there were Iberian pigs fed only with commercial feed). Today the figures for the type of feeding are the following:
- 16% of the population of Iberian pigs are fed only with acorn and natural herbs (montanera o bellota).
- 23% of the population are fed at 50% with acorns (recebo).
- 61% are fed only 10% acorns (cebo).
This differences are translated in the prices as well.
The most known product from Iberian pig is Jamon Bellota (acorn ham or Iberian ham). Due to the acorns diet the ham contains natural oleic acid or good cholesterol. This substance helps to compensate the effects of the cardiovascular illnesses. There is the reason why the Iberian pig has been called “olive on legs”. The Jamon Bellota is also rich in proteins, contains vitamins B1, B6 and B12, folic acid, and minerals such as copper, iron and phosphorus. It is also convenient to know that Iberian ham is low in calories, so feel free to enjoy it!