What does it all mean? A diner's guide to Iberico
Date Published : 14 May 2018

Iberico pork and Iberico ham mean two very different things. One is a strictly controlled designation of origin, meaning that only products that meet strict criteria can use the name, the other has a meaning that is a little more vague.

Iberico pork comes from wild swine that have grown up foraging for acorns amongst the undergrowth in the picture-perfect forests of southern Europe. Apart from when it doesn’t. The problem is that Iberico is simply the name of a breed of pig - the black Iberian pig to give it its full title. Yes, sometimes these pigs are raised, partially, on a diet that includes acorns, but any iberian black pig, raised on any feed anywhere in the world can be labelled “Iberico.” The only way to know what you’re really getting is to ask the person selling it to you. If they can’t tell you where it came from, it’s probably nothing special.

Iberico ham, properly known as Jamón ibérico, is a different matter. And you won’t find it being used in your char siu bao. The name is legally protected and can only be applied to ham that has been cured for at least two years and is produced from black Iberian pigs from certain parts of Spain and Portugal.

What to look out for:

The best Iberico ham is called jamón ibérico de bellota or jamón ibérico de Montanera. This stuff really is made from free range pigs that live in oak forests and that, for at least part of their lives, feed on acorns. This healthy free-roaming lifestyle and natural diet impart a distinctive flavour on the meat, which is cured for three whole years after the pig is slaughtered. There are two subcategories of this ham; red label doesn’t have to be come from purebred black Iberian pigs (the label should specify what percentage of black Iberian pig you’re getting). Black label, on the other hand, comes from purebred pigs. Whether you can taste the difference is another matter.

Ham that is simply labelled as jamón ibérico, or that carries a white label, tends to be grain-fed rather than raised on acorns and has been cured for two years. There is also an intermediate grade called jamón ibérico cebo de campo, which carries a green label.

If the ham is marked D.O.P, this stands for Denominación de Origen Protegida (Protected Denomination of Origin). Just like appellation d'origine contrôlée on French wines, this term can only be applied to products from strictly defined regions of Spain.

READ NEXT: What does it all mean? A diner's guide to wagyu


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