Spanish bellota jamon is one of the country’s greatest culinary treasures – the legendary flavor of true acorn-fed Iberico pork, dry cured over the course of years until its taste is concentrated to an unbelievable peak that delights with even a single bite.
These hams are salted, hung, and very slowly dry cured by master craftsmen over the course of 3-4 years, until their flavor is judged to be perfect. They are amongst the very finest jamon Spain produces, a true delicacy.
Bone-in bellota jamon is the most traditional, but there is a complicated art to carving it (typically assisted by a special stand). This boneless bellota jamon still offers incredible flavor, but can be easier to work with.
The Unique Flavor of Guijeulo Jamon
Jamon from the Guijeulo region has a different flavor than jamon from the other ham producing areas. While those hams are intensely savory, Guijeulo jamon is nutty, sweeter & creamier with an emphasis on the Iberico’s luxurious fat. This Spanish ham is D.O.C. protected for the Guijeulo region of Spain. This means that it is held to a set of strict standards to ensure authentic, traditional production methods and flavor.
Black Label – the Highest Grade of Jamon
There are several levels of quality & authenticity on the Spanish jamon market. The coveted Black Label is the highest level, applying to only about 5% of the jamon on the market.
Its use is very strictly controlled and requires the following three conditions be met:
- The Breed – For the Black Label, the pigs’ genetics must be pure-bred (100%) Iberico. Lower grades of jamon allow the faster-growing hybrid breeds popular with many Spanish farmers.
- The Diet – Black Label jamon must be acorn-fed (“bellota”). Lower grades of jamon allow other diets.
- The Lifestyle – Black Label jamon must be raised free range on dehesas – the traditional orchard pastures of Southern Spain.
100% Iberico Genetics
As any fan of Wagyu or Angus beef will tell you, breed genetics can make a big difference in the quality of the meat.
As proof of Iberico genetics, it is traditional for bone-in jamon to be sold with the hoof on in Spain. Unfortunately USDA import restrictions do not allow any jamon to enter the US with the hoof, but you can rest assured these hams had the proper black hoof.
Bellota – “Acorn Fed”
Not all Iberico pork on the market is acorn fed, but Iberico that is represents the finest quality available. Despite being called “acorn fed” in English, what this actually means is “Acorn Finished” – all Bellota pigs graze on grass, forage, and other things in their pastures (dehesas) until acorn season.
When the acorns start to fall from the trees in October, the pigs love them and eat as many as they can (herders actually help by shaking the branches to knock more acorns down). For each 2.2lbs a pig gains during acorn season, they must eat 13-22lbs of acorns a day, plus 6.6lbs of grass.
Several months of acorn finishing performs a special form of culinary alchemy on the pigs’ fat. Acorns are very high in unsaturated fat, and this diet produces finished hams that are sweet & balanced, with uniquely creamy fat that is unsaturated that it melts easily just above room temperature (like when you put it in your mouth).
Dehesas– “Pasture Raised”
Not all Iberico pork on the market is pasture raised free range on the rustic orchard pastures (dehesas) of Southern/Central Spain. The Iberico breed is remarkably active, as pigs go, so giving them room to roam, browse, and forage is an important part of their natural lifestyle.
Ajomar’s expansive dehesas in Extremadura in the southwest of Spain provide at least 2 ½ acres (1 hectare) of space per 3 pigs.