JAMON iberico, made from the Spanish native Iberico pig, is one of Spain’s most beloved exports. At its best, it’s a whole leg with a black hoof, a telltale sign that you’re eating a cured ham from the pampered Black Iberico pig.
BusinessWorld caught up with Luis Miguel Arroyo, the export manager of Julian Martin SA, a producer of Iberico hams from Guijuelo, during a Spanish food exposition last month in the Makati Shangri-La as he took of a slice from a whole leg of ham, with the telltale black hoof. Julian Martin is a family owned company, which began in 1933, a few years before the Spanish Civil War. The war hit Julian Martin I’s interests hard, and he began again in 1939. “It sure proves that we have a strong and ambitious family behind [the company], that has pushed and developed the company to what it is today,” said Mr. Arroyo. Julian Martin SA is now run by the family’s third generation, and boasts its own slaughterhouse, processing plant, and farm, on which they have their own genetic strain of Iberico pig (achieved through years of careful breeding), and special feeds tailored to that strain’s needs.
Julian Martin’s hams and sausages have three lines, each with its own color-coded wrapping. A product from a pureblood Iberico pig is wrapped in black, while products from crossbreeding with the Duroc breed but still fed on acorns is wrapped in red. A product from a grain-fed hybrid is wrapped in blue. Iberico hams are protected by a Denominacion de Origen from Spain, and pigs with hams to be called Iberico must have at least one Iberico parent. For a jamón ibérico to be called a bellota, it must be fed on acorns.
Now, Mr. Arroyo pointed out the ankles on his star ham: he noted thinner ankles, and an anatomy more akin to the pig’s ancestor, the wild boar. The Iberico pig is much smaller than its contemporaries, and it takes a longer time for the pigs to mature, so there’s more time for the flavor to develop.
He pointed out the scent of his bellota: it should be smelled from a distance, and it should be a bit gamey. According to him, the crossbreeds have a weaker smell, in fact, “All the senses are dimmed,” he said. The mouthfeel of an excellent bellota should be firm. He pointed out as well that the pig’s diet — the acorns, containing oleic acid — give the pig a nutty and oily aroma and taste, punctuated with some sweetness at the end.
Mr. Arroyo then opened a package of the cereal-fed hams. The fat was thicker, and the taste of the meat was milder, but the salty taste was more pronounced. It didn’t have much of a characteristic smell. The difference of a 100% Iberico ham, and a crossbred cereal-fed one was something that Mr. Arroyo phrased quite romantically: “It’s like comparing a sunny summer day, outdoors,” he said of the 100% Iberico ham; while looking at the summer’s day from a window, for the cereal-fed ham. — JLG