There’s truly no other pork like Ibérico. And if you’ve ever had the privilege of traveling to Spain, you know exactly when we’re talking about. The flavor of this particular type of Spanish pork is unprecedented, and it contributes so much to the country’s rich gastronomy. But what exactly is Ibérico pork and is it worth trying? We’re digging into the details for you, but one thing is for certain: you definitely should try it.
What is Ibérico Pork?
Ibérico pork comes from none other than Ibérico pigs. This breed of pig is native to the Iberian peninsula, the region encompassing Spain and Portugal. Ibéricos are a particularly unique breed with black hooves, wiry hair, and a leaner build. Their muscle has such a high level of intramuscular fat that they’re more similar to wagyu beef than traditional breeds of pig.
Ibérico pork is also high in oleic acids, or unsaturated fatty acids that can help increase good cholesterol and reduce bad cholesterol. These fatty acids are famously found in extra-virgin olive oil, one of Spain’s other specialties.
When you hear the word Ibérico, you probably think of the cured Iberian ham legs seen hanging from the ceilings in tapas bars throughout Spain. Those paper thin layers of rich, melt-in-your-mouth fat wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the mighty Ibérico pig—its physical makeup, special treatment, and healthy diet. There’s a lot of tender loving care that goes into producing such a world-renown product, and yet it’s the pig itself that truly sets it apart from the rest of cured meats around the world.
In Spain, Ibérico pork is also eaten fresh like any other cut of pork, making for some of the most flavorful steaks, filets, and slow-cooked porky goodness in existence. Or as we like to say: pork, how it’s supposed to taste.
Where to Buy Ibérico Pork
Head down to the supermarket looking for fresh Ibérico pork, and you’ll absolutely be disappointed. Ibérico pork is difficult to find outside of Spain, especially the fresh variety. Shipping such precious cargo to the states is complicated for most large retailers, and despite Ibérico’s reputation in Spain, it’s still fairly unknown outside Europe.
You can try a specialty gourmet shop, but the best place to buy it is online and have it delivered to your door. Campo Grande sells over ten cuts of fresh Ibérico pork, as well as all cured hams and sausages like Sliced Ibérico Chorizo and Paleta Shoulder. And you don’t have to leave your house to find it.
Why is Ibérico Pork So Expensive?
Here’s the secret: It’s not! At least not if you compare the quality, taste, and health benefits of Ibérico pork to industrial pork. There are a few main reasons why Ibérico pork costs more than the cellophane wrapped packs you find in the grocery store:
The Ibérico breed
Ibérico is an ancient breed that has much smaller litters than most pigs. Mama pigs usually only birth about 6 piglets in the best conditions, while industrial breeds will have 8-12. The pigs themselves are actually smaller in size than others and have smaller muscles. (An industrial pork loin is often twice the size of an Ibérico loin.) Ibéricos aren’t given hormones to spur on their growth, so pigs are butchered when they’re slightly older and have denser bones. Ibéricos by nature also have a higher fat to meat ratio, which, coupled with their bone density, leads to an overall lower meat yield in comparison to industrial breeds.
When animals are raised naturally without any hormones or corn-based fattening feed, they grow much slower than factory-raised livestock. It takes Ibéricos double the time it takes industrial pigs to reach their prime age for butchery. And more time for farmers means higher expenses and less revenue: more labor costs and less pigs sold every year.
The Ibérico diet costs more
Ibérico pigs eat differently than their industrial counterparts. Instead of GMO corn feed, which is harmful to the animals and to our bodies as consumers, Ibéricos feed on natural shrubs, grasses, and loads of acorns, which produce a characteristic nutty flavor in the meat. And if farmers do need to supplement with feed, it’s a high-quality grain feed.
Ibérico pigs’ living conditions
Instead of packing the pigs into farrowing crates and cages, Ibérico pigs are required by the Spanish government to roam freely in the Spanish savanna. And all that roaming requires land, and land requires a whole lot of upkeep.
How is Ibérico Pork Classified?
There are all sorts of official ways to classify Ibérico pork, especially when it comes to the famous Jamón Ibérico. The best is what’s known as the 100% Ibérico de Bellota, meaning the breed is 100% Iberian (not mixed with other breeds) and the pigs feed primarily on acorns and natural grasses. You’ll also see these top level beauties referred to as Pata Negra, or black hoof.
Specific classifications are even more rigorous when it comes to labeling cured ham and shoulder legs, with tags denoting their purity of breed to the amount of grain vs. acorn they consume. The great news? These denotations are controlled by the Spanish government to protect consumers. You’ll always know exactly what you’re getting.
Ibérico Pork is the Only Pork You Should Try
Ibérico pork is without a doubt one of the great marvels of Spanish gastronomy. Its flavor is wildly unique—earthy, nutty, and with a healthy fat incomparable to any other pork on the planet. And it is worth tasting. Looking to try out your first cuts of Ibérico? Campo Grande’s Ultimate Sampler Pork Box is a great place to start.