The Jamón 100% Ibérico is one of Spain’s most prized culinary masterpieces—if not its finest. Of course, this masterpiece doesn’t just paint itself. It must be carefully crafted and cared for to reach its full delicious potential. Our master “jamoneros”, or ham artisans, take the hams and paletas through a calculated and lengthy curing process to achieve the right textures and flavors we have all come to love. Their acute noses allow them to know the best ways to handle each piece as it moves throughout the process, so it can eventually meet rigorous national and internal standards and become the best jamón 100% ibérico or paleta 100% ibérica out there.
We’re digging into some of the mysteries of making jamón ibérico, from the first big chill to the final days in the cellar. These methods are safe, time-tested, and produce an unparalleled product.
The Cooling Chill
Once butchered, the jamón and paleta are brought to large refrigerators, where they are hung up and chilled for 24 hours until they reach temperatures below 39ºF. During this phase we look at three different controls:
- 1) The placement on the hooks and proper identification of the meat
- 2) Visual aspects
- 3) The correct tags in accordance with the Interprofessional Iberian Pig Association (known as ASICI in Spain)
Beveling & Beautification
The beautification process, or what is called the “biselado,” or beveling stage, is all about creating a good-looking jamón and removing flaws. We first remove unwanted fats to give it a visually attractive and uniform shape and color. This also helps the salt distribute evenly in the following stage. Next, we make that classic V-cut into the skin that makes the jamón so recognizable. Finally, we look for any possible defects in the ham. If we do find a ham with even minimal flaws or differences, we separate it from the others but continue it along in the same process of curing.
Next, the hams are placed in salt and kept at a temperature below 37ºF. During this period, the hams are classified based on their weight and PH levels. They’re then left in salt according to their weights: for every kilo the ham stays in salt a full day. Thus, if a jamón or paleta clocks in at 7 kilos, it must remain in salt for 7 days. After this period they spend time in the salting refrigeration room where the temperature and humidity are controlled (less than 39ºF and between 90% and 95% humidity).
To remove the salt, we use highly-pressured warm water (86ºF) and air to clean the salt completely from the exterior. The salt is later recycled and the hams are placed in clean containers and left at 39ºF before being hung by a rope from the ceiling and organized based on their weight. At this point, the jamón and paleta are ready to start the curing process.
The Post-Salting Period
For the first month of curing, we keep the temperatures around 39ºF. Little by little we begin to gradually raise the temperatures and lower the humidity levels. This method helps distribute the salt and aromas throughout the piece. The process lasts about 90 to 120 days depending on the paleta or jamón.
The Drying Room
Once the pieces move to the drying room, they are kept at room temperature. During the first summer, there is what’s called the “first sweat”. During this process the hams and paletas are acutely monitored for changes in appearance or aroma, and they actually shrink about 22%. They will stay in the drying room at room temperature (never going over 82ºF) until the following summer, where they then go through their second sweat.
The Cellar Period
In the final stage, the hams and shoulders are moved to natural cellar rooms where they stay for 600-700 days (hams) and 558 (paletas) and are slowly cured to perfection. The master jamonero constantly checks and tests each piece, paying special attention to those smells, colors, and other visual indicators that the process is moving along as it should. By the end of the cellar period, the pieces will have reduced in total by 35% compared to their original size and weight. Once they are fully cured, they are classified by weight, tested for quality, packaged, and sent to their final destination: you!
Ready to taste for yourself? Order your Acorn-Fed 100% Ibérico Pork Ham and enjoy the beautiful artisanship of Spain’s best master jamoneros.