Ibéricos COVAP – Valle de los Pedroches, Córdoba, Spain
Jamón Ibérico is, hands-down, the best ham in the world. Its translucent fat-streaked slices melt in your mouth with a nutty sweetness. The contrast of the fat with the deep umami of the tender meat—heaven. On a visit to a Jamón Ibérico cooperative in Córdoba’s Valle de los Pedroches, our chefs met Rafa, a “maestro jamónero,” or authority on all things ham, from production to slicing. He walked the chefs through the rolling hills of oak groves where pure-bred black Iberian pigs roam freely, eating grass and roots and scavenging for fallen acorns. For the final months of the pigs’ lives, their diet will be restricted exclusively to acorns. That is what gives Jamón Ibérico its distinct nutty flavor and marbling. The ham legs are salted for 40–60 days, 1 day for every kilo of weight, then hung from two-story-high rafters for at least another six months. Afterward, they are moved to dry, dark cellars, where they will hang for between two and four years. The curing process slowly dries the meat, concentrating flavor, and the aging coaxes a deep nutty richness from the revered Ibérico hams.