The pigs are slaughtered when they weigh 350 pounds (160 kg.) They are put to sleep first so that they won’t be stressed at time of slaughter, which producers of the ham feel would affect the meat.
The ham section is cut off from the pig, and trimmed, leaving 1/2 inch (1 cm) of fat on. The ham is set in sea salt for 3 weeks, then washed, and hung to air-dry and age until the meat inside is almost reddish-black with white marbling. Outside, they will be yellowish from the external layer of fat, and will often develop a thin powdering of mould on the outside. This drying and aging can last anywhere from 2 to 3 years.
It is sold and used in very thin slices. Though it looks like Prosciutto, as does Serrano Ham, just as Serrano Ham is more expensive than Prosciutto, Iberico Ham is more expensive again than Serrano. One whole ham in Spain (about 15 pounds / 7 kg) costs about $550 US, or about $115 dollars / £60 per kg/2.25 pounds (2004 prices.)
There are a variety of quality levels depending on how the hog was fed (see Iberian Pigs.)
A well-known brand is “Sánchez Romero Carvajal.”
Iberico Ham was illegal in America as of 2005, because there are no USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) certified slaughterhouses in Spain. Bringing the ham into the US made the bearer liable for a fine of up to $50,000 and a prison term of up to 10 years. In order to export to America, the Spanish Jámon Iberico producers could have built a USDA approved slaughterhouse in Spain, or shipped the pigs for slaughter to Denmark, where there were approved facilities, but the producers couldn’t be bothered — they were smothered in European Union health regulations already as it was, and even without the American market, their production was often sold out years in advance.
By July of 2005, though, Santiago Martin of Embutidos Fermin Company in Spain won USDA approval for their slaughterhouse in La Alberca, near Salamanca. Any hams prior to approval, though, could not be shipped: only those made after approval. Consequently, the first shipment for America left Spain in July 2007, arriving in New York. The presence of a small amount of Listeria bacterium in the first shipment caused it to be seized, but by December 2007 shipments that the Americans approved of began arriving.
Shipments to Canada began in March 2008, through Vancouver.
Iberico Ham is served in paper-thin slices on bread. It is never cooked, though some feel that a very brief warming wakes up the flavour.
Store in refrigerator, but let come to room temperature before serving.
Received “Protected Designation of Origin” (PDO) in 1995.
Occasionally the ham itself is also referred to as “Pata Negra”. A synonym for the ham, “Jabugo Ham”, comes from the name of the village of Jabugo, about 60 miles (95 km) north-west of Seville. Jabugo is a main centre of production.
Andrés, José. El jamón ibérico llega por primera vez de forma legal a EE UU. El Páis, Madrid, Spain. 12 July 2007.
Embutidos Fermín lanzará jamón ibérico en Canadá después de hacerlo en EE UU. Cinco Dias. Madrid. 11 March 2008.
McLaughlin, Katy. Despite U.S. Clamor, These Little Piggies Stay Home in Spain. Wall Street Journal. 20 July 2004.
Zalewska, Anna. Hog heaven. Globe and Mail. Toronto. 2 April 2008.