THE SECRETS OF TASTING AN IBERIAN HAM
One of the essential parts of a typical Mediterranean meal is the cured
Spanish Iberian ham. It is not the regular kind of ham that’s stringy or tough
to chew. This Spanish ham is special and it literally just melts in your mouth
and the marbled fat all over the ham gives it the sweet and nutty aroma
that is typical of acorn fed hams. The Iberian pigs that produce this
exceptionally tasty kind of ham are popularly called “pata negra” because of
their black hooves. Iberian ham is considered a luxurious meal because of
its rarity and taste. It is more expensive than other hams and it is not
made for cooking but rather it is best enjoyed with a good glass of wine.
Observing an Iberian ham, the unmistakable lines can be seen of
a free-range animal in the Dehesa, recognizing the amazing mark left by
the natural feeding on the open air and the rich diet consisting on acorn
and grass, and finally discover the details that generate a perfect cure.
Enjoying a good ham provides a wide range of experiences to the senses,
therefore it is appropriate to educate the palate.
To know more about how its exquisite taste and texture came to be, these
are seven points that make acorn fed ham special:
- Yellow exterior fat depending on the time of ageing.
- Set of colours, the intensity of the pink colour in the fat indicates a high
- Colour: dark reds are the best. They are synonymous with good food,
exercise, resulting in an increase in all natural pigments.
- Brightness: the intramuscular fat rich in fatty acids at room
temperature, with a fine cut is favoured by a good carving man.
- Marbling: essential in a good ham
- Thyroxin crystals: appears crystallized at the end of the ageing process.
The presence of these amino acids is proof of the quality of pork
regardless of the quantity of them.
The olfactory dimension is defined by two aspects:
- Intensity: like wine or cheese, it is necessary the smells to be intense.
- The smell of acorns: imperceptible but unique. Question of education and
time to be able to identify it.
Two aspects should be contrasted:
- The hardness of the fat: the number of adipose cells increases the
quality of the animal. In the case of the Iberian pig, the fat is softer.
- The fluidity of the fat: this depends on its degree of unsaturation.
The Texture of Lean
- Dry: The ideal humidity should be below 45%.
- Fiber: the fiber is a measure of the texture that determine the degree
of the slice’s tendency to separate into fibers and the strength of these to
lose its structure.
- Juiciness: depends on two factors, the humidity that occurs when you
start chewing, thus releasing the juices of the meat, and the stimulating
effect of the fat on the salivary flow.
- Hardness: The resistance of chewing a piece of ham has a lot to do with
its fiber and infiltration of more or less fat.
- Saltiness: neither too little nor too much. More tolerated in slow curing
and long aged hams (36 to 48 months).
- Sweetness: it is due to a wide variety of factors, including sugar alcohols
and derivatives (ketones and amino acids).
- Bitterness: in this case the factors that produce the sweet effect, also
produces the bitter. Excessive bitter taste is due to a reduction of time in
Perceived during chewing through the nostrils and palate, and helps to
refine the taste of food. We must take into account the intensity,
persistence, the scent of curedness (result of the use of nitrites and
nitrates), rancid taste and other flavours (caramel, roasted, nutty-nut-,
musty, fishy paste etc …).