They are basically a semi-wild pig, closely related to wild boars, and are found mostly in the west of Spain.
They get lots of exercise, which causes the fat to be marbled into the meat. But, they won’t put on as much weight as other pigs, which is why this one fell out of favour.
One of an Iberian pig’s four grandparents may be either a Duroc or Jersey pig, and it will still be classed as an Iberian pig.
Many Spanish hams such as Dehesa de Extremadura, and Iberico Ham are made from the pig. Though most food writers concentrate on the use of its back legs for hams, in fact only 10% of the hams produced in Spain are from this pig, and every last bit of the pig is used for other purposes as well.
The pigs are allowed to graze in the wild, especially in the autumn for acorns. The period when acorns fall is called the “montanera.” Each hog needs about 1 hectare to forage in.
Meat from the pigs is graded according to how they were fed:
In descending order, the grades are:
- Jamón Ibérico de bellota [bellota meaning acorn];
- Jamón Ibérico de recebo [recebo meaning gravel, implying barnyard];
- Jamón Ibérico (de cebo aka pienso or de campo [cebo and pienso meaning fodder.)
The de Bellota grade is from pigs fed commercial feed until they reach 200 pounds (90 kg, at the age of 14 to 15 months), then nothing but pasture grass and acorns until they reach their slaughter weight of 350 to 420 pounds (160 to 190 kg.)
The de recebo grade is from pigs fed commercial feed until they reach 200 pounds (90 kg), then a mixture of commercial feed (no more than 1/3 commercial feed), pasture grass and acorns until they reach their slaughter weight of 350 to 420 pounds (160 to 190 kg.) “Gravel” implies time in a barnyard.
The “de Bellota” and “de recebo” grades are allowed to live and range out in the open in oak groves, just as pigs used to be kept everywhere up until the end of the Middle Ages. The pigs feed off what they find there, especially acorns in the autumn, when they will eat about 25 pounds (11kg) of acorns each a day for about 3 months.
The acorns produce in the pigs’ fat “oleic acid”, the same as is also present in olive oil.
The “de campo” or “de cebo” grade pigs are fed only commercial feed.