Jamon Iberico is an extraordinary cured ham from the black-footed Iberian pigs. It is an excellent complement to any meal, but also tastes incredible on its own. While the product is available in different quality levels around the world, some producers have been awarded several prizes and honors for the remarkable caliber. Today, it remains a staple in some cultures and a delicacy around the world.
In recent years, the Spanish government has established a standard for Jamon Iberico and a model for labeling this product, both of which require that every piece of cured ham (Jamón) has to go through a rigorous process to obtain official certification.
What is Jamon Iberico?
Jamon Iberico is a Spanish native cured meat from black hoof Iberian pigs in either Spain or Portugal. It is the most sought-after pork product in the world due to its rich flavor and high quality.1
You'll find many different types of Jamon Iberico, with each region having its unique style and flavor profile. Some are considered more prestigious than others, while others are more affordable. You may also notice that some Jamon Iberico labels include the word "bellota," which refers to acorn-fed pigs that live in forests where oak trees grow naturally—this type of pork has been shown to result in higher quality pigs than those that aren't fed on acorns.
When shopping for Jamon Iberico, knowing how it was labeled or graded before buying it to ensure you're getting what you paid for is essential.
History of Classification
Before 2014, the labeling system for Jamon Iberico left consumers confused and misled. Some producers even purposely mislabeled the pork to further their business. Labels showing happy pigs grazing on acorns didn't mean the pigs were free-range or even acorn-fed. In addition to mislabelling, the amount of "Jamon Iberico de Bellota" on sale did not match the number of acorn-fed Iberian pigs raised in Spain.
In 2014, the Spanish government approved a new color-coding system to grade and labeled all Iberian pork products. This system was created by MAPAMA (Ministerio de Agricultura y Pesca, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente), the Spanish ministry of agriculture and fishing, which wanted to establish a traceability control and transparency procedure for Iberico pork production.
The new system makes Jamon Iberico labels easier to understand, so customers know exactly what they're buying – whether the animal was fed on grass or grain, the breed, and which area it came from. Under the new law, Iberian pork can also be subject to stricter controls on its curing process in its curing facility and minimum weight for legs. The new classification system focuses on three main pillars:
- The breed of pig: The Iberian pig, the small black breed native to Spain and Portugal, provides the best meat for making jamón. When both parents are purebred, the pig from the two will be 100% Iberian. Others might be mixed with Iberian and other breeds, so producers now must specify the percentage of Iberian so consumers and regulators can determine its genetic history.
- What it was fed on - While the previous grading system relied on four "food" categories, it has now been cut down to three: bellota (acorns), cebo del campo (natural grazing), or cebo (fodder).
- Where it was raised: Knowing how and where a pig was raised is crucial. The new standards for Jamon Iberico labeling showcase the ability to roam free (eating acorns or naturally roaming and grazing through oak groves) or if the pig is in an enclosed pen (and fed fodder) for the majority of the time. The number of pigs a farmer can raise on each hectare is 0.25-1.25 when free-range. To ensure their welfare, pigs in enclosed pens over 110kg must have at least 2 square meters of space per pig.
White Label (Jamon de Cebo)
The white label is the lowest tier available for Iberico ham. The classifications are the most lenient, allowing each pig to be only 50% Ibérico breed to receive the qualification. These pigs also live the least happy life, being kept enclosed in a pen and given fodder.
Green Label (Jamon Iberico de Cebo de Campo)
Iberico with a green label, will ensure the pig is at least 50% Iberian. These pigs have also been allowed to roam freely in a natural environment where they can graze on grass and eat fodder.
Red Label (Jamon Iberico de Bellota)
The red label indicates the Iberico breed is between 50-75%. These pigs are raised free range and are allowed acorns during the Montanera season.
Black Label (Jamon 100% Iberico de Bellota)
Black label Jamon Iberico is at the top of its class. This label ensures that the pig is of 100% Iberian descent and is 100% acorn-fed during the montanero period (October to February). It is also important to note that Jamon 100% Iberico de Bellota is 100% free-range. All these factors combined contribute to the quality level required for a black label.
Cinco Jotas (5J's)
Finding a quality brand of Jamon Iberico can be challenging in the U.S. due to import restrictions on Spanish pork products. We are proud to offer Jamon 100% Iberico de Bellota from Cinco Jotas. Cinco Jotas is the leading Spanish producer of Jamon Ibérico De Bellota (Acorn Fed Ibérico Ham) and Iberian products. For five generations, the people of Jabugo, Spain, have contributed their ancestral culture's wisdom to Cinco Jotas. In turn, Cinco Jotas has relied on these local artisans whose ancestors have been producing hams for more than a century.
To learn more about Cinco Jotas (5J's) Iberian Pork Products and their curing process, click here.
To indulge in recipes highlighting Ibérico Products, click here.
To learn more about WorldClass and the products we offer, click here