Dehesa de Extremadura
Cured hams (hind extremities) and shoulders (fore extremities) from pure-bred Ibérico pigs, or cross-breeds with at least 75% Ibérico blood (pigs may only be bred with others from the Duroc-Jersey breed), brought up under the extensive rearing system, with a minimum production period of 18 months for hams and 12 months for shoulders.
Rearing area: includes the holm oak and/or oak-filled dehesa pastures in the provinces of Cáceres and Badajoz (Extremadura).
The Ibérico pigs arrive at the slaughterhouse at least 24 hours before they are slaughtered, in order to allow them to recover from the fatigue and stress of transport.
Once the extremities have been obtained, they are classified according to their weight. The hind legs must have a minimum authorized weight of six kilos, and are classified into three groups : six to eight kilos (13.2 – 17.6 lbs), eight to 11 kilos (17.6 – 24.2 lbs) and more than 11 kilos (24.2 lbs). The forelegs must have a minimum authorized weight of four kilos (9.9 lbs), and are classified into two groups:from four to five kilos (9.9 – 11 lbs) and more than five kilos (11 lbs).
The cut pieces are then kept for 36 to 48 hours at temperatures between 1 and 4ºC (33.8 to 39.2ºF).
The first stage of the production process is the salting. This involves incorporating common and nitrifying salts into the muscle, to encourage dehydration and the preservation of the pieces, contributing to the typical color and aroma of cured products. The process is carried out at a temperature of between 1 and 5ºC (33.8 and 41ºF), with relative humidity of approximately 80-90%. Salting time varies, and depends on the weight of the piece and the level of Iberian pig pureness. A rough guide is one day per kilo (2.2 lbs) of weight. Approximately halfway through the process the pieces are turned over, to make sure that the salt is evenly distributed.
The second stage involves washing the pieces in cold or lukewarm water, removing the salt from their surface.
Then comes the so called Rest period, which varies between 35 and 45 days. The pieces are left in rooms with temperatures between three and six degrees centigrade (37,4 and 42,8ºF) with relative humidity of 80 to 90% During this period which last 35 to 45 days the pieces are left to uniformly absorb the salt.
Then the hams and shoulders are then hung in natural curing warehouses with windows that can be programmed to open and close, thus controlling ventilation and ensuring optimal relative humidity and temperature conditions. During this stage the product continues to be gradually dried, and the fat is dispersed into the muscle fibers, thus retaining the product’s natural aroma.
In the last stage (ageing) the pieces are moved to cellars, where they are hung up to mature. The biochemical processes initiated in the previous stage continue here, with the intervention of microbial flora that give the products its unique aroma and flavor. The piece’s weight determines the length of time that it will remain in these cellars.
The production process lasts a minimum of 18 months for hams and 12 months for shoulders, depending on the weight and quality of the piece in question.
The PDO product is identified by a plastic seal and rear label, both numbered, which are red for Bellota quality products, green for Recebo and cream for the Pienso product.
Complex, intense and lingering flavor, with sweet notes dominating the savory hints, and an abundance of nuances including earthy touches and hints of nuts. When finely sliced the fat melts in the mouth, in particular with the Bellota (acorn-fed) category, strengthening its characteristic aroma and giving the product a firm texture that is, at the same time, tender.
Its external shape is long, stylized and profiled with the so-called “V” shape cut. The piece, which still has its hoof, must weigh no less than four and a half kilos (9.9 lbs), and shoulders must weigh three and a half kilos (7.7 lbs) or more. When sliced its color varies from pink to red/purple, with presence of yellow-white infiltrated fat in the muscle, aromatic and of varying consistency depending on the percentage of acorns included in the pig’s feed. It should have a maximum aqueous content of 50% on the outside and 55% in the middle, as well as a maximum of 5% sodium chloride content.