I have a cultural and genetic obligation to love the humble pig. Traditionally all Irish houses had one, hiding behind the half door, and it would feed a family for much of the year. Bacon and cabbage is a national institution, we’re obsessed with white and black pudding, and the Christmas ham is wheeled out all through the year. My mother was raised on pigs head and trotters (we call them crubeens – little feet in Irish), but we never had them as children. They would be raised as a threat if we wouldn’t eat our mash and peas. Now as an adult, I adore them.

Jamon Iberico de Bellota - curing

Spain takes the humble ham to a different level with their Jamon Iberico, specifically Jamon Iberico de Bellota. The pata negra (pigs with black feet) love acorns and live in an area where there are many. They are like small shuffling acorn junkies. They are allowed a lot of space to move, and to forage for and snaffle acorns so they get a lovely dispersal of intramuscular fat. This fat delivers intense flavour and a lovely melt in the mouth texture (the fat starts to melt at 20 deg C).

Sierra de Sevilla Pata Negra Farm

The farm I visited – part of Sierra de Sevilla – had 300 pigs on 900 hectares – that’s 3 hectares each. They cruise around munching, eating so much that they put on up to 40kg in their last 3 months.

One of the curing rooms at Sierra de Sevilla

Fat? Well, we shouldn’t be afraid of fat anyway, our bodies need it, even if many diet book wielding folks would tell us otherwise.  Especially good fats, and my friends, the fat in Jamon Iberico de Bellota is good. With high percentages of oleic acid (also found abundant in olive oil), due to the acorn munching obsessive nature of the pig, this fat is thought to help to reduce bad cholesterol and raise levels of the good one. It’s that healthy Mediteranean diet again, isn’t it?

Ham cutter at the tasting room at Sierra de Sevilla

I now have an addiction, I already did. Add that to my current truffle problem and I fear I may need to get a part time job to support it.

Details: I experienced the Jamon Day as a guest of Hospes Hotels, a lovely boutique hotel in central Seville. A day trip with driver and car for up to 4 people to the Sierra de Sevilla farm, jamon factory with jamon carving session and tasting costs €520 all incl. 

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Niamh

Cooking and travelling, and sharing it all with you.
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