Spoiler alert: it's not! At least not for what you're getting in comparison to the rest of the pork in the U.S. There’s a reason why this prized product eaten all throughout Spain costs more than the industrialized pork packed into cellophane you’re used to snagging at the supermarket.
This isn’t the gray, flavorless tenderloin that turns to sawdust in your mouth. This isn't even the organic, pasture-raised pork you buy at the gourmet grocery store. This is the nutty, perfectly marbled, always juicy, and absurdly flavorful Ibérico that will change the way you see and taste pork forever.
Checking out Ibérico pork prices and wondering why Ibérico pork is so expensive? Here’s why.
What is the Ibérico Breed?
The Ibérico pig is an ancient breed only found on the Iberian peninsula. This breed actually has much smaller litters than most pigs; mama pigs usually only birth about 6 piglets in the best conditions, compared to the 8-12 piglets other breeds tend to birth.
Ibérico also hasn't been genetically engineered or modified to be bred for yield like most industrialized pigs. In other words, this is all about yield. If you’ve ever bought veggies from a small farmer’s market stand or even beer from a local brewery, you’ll notice a jump in price. Small supplies mean producers aren’t able to sell their products at giant volumes like a pesticide-ridden farm or a big beer distributor. But what do you get? A better tasting product (more nutrients, flavor, care for the environment) that makes up for the price you pay.
Ibérico works just the same. These animals are not only bred on a small scale to protect the quality, but the pigs themselves are actually smaller in size and are a bit weaker (smaller muscles). For example, an industrial pork loin is often twice the size of an Ibérico loin.
No hormones also means the animals are slightly older and their bones are denser (AKA heavier); they also have a higher fat to meat ratio (AKA more deliciousness). This throws off what is called the “carcass balance” in the butcher world, meaning you get less meat from the Ibérico pig than you would a typical industrialized breed. The problem is, we all want more meat and want to pay less for it. But this isn't’ more meat, it’s better meat.
The Price of Slow-Growth Animals
Ibérico pigs are slow-growth animals. Because they’re not fed hormones or fattened up on industrial corn, it takes them longer to achieve ideal slaughter weight. In most cases, it takes Iberian pigs double the time that it takes industrial pigs to grow. A period of 10-12 months is typical, but it can even stretch into 12-18 months depending on the seasonality of the acorn trees. Why does that matter? Time is money. The longer it takes for the pigs to fatten, the more care is required by the pig farmers. And the more care and time required of them equates to more salaires and less pigs sold every year.
The Cost of the Ibérico Diet
Pigs are monogastric animals, meaning they only have one digestive system (unlike cows, for example). Most industrialized pigs are fed a corn-based diet. Corn is an extremely cheap form of feed (hey there, GMOs) that helps pigs fatten up quickly. The downside is that their monogastric systems do not respond well to this type of feed, and their bodies produce a type of fat high in linoleic acid and PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids). So if these feeds are harmful for pigs, you can only imagine how harmful they are for the humans who eat them.
The Ibérico pig eats differently. First of all, these guys get to forage, running around the meadows snacking on whatever they can find: grubs, grasses, nuts. Later on, Ibéricos go ham (pun intended) on acorns, which helps the fat develop a nutty quality and loads it up with oleic acid, the same fatty acid found in olives.
If the pigs need a bit more for dinner, farmers will supplement with a high-quality feed containing cereal grains like barley, oats, and wheat. This feed, of course, is more expensive than corn feed. But it creates a far healthier profile and much better meat. It’s the difference between snacking on a bag of Doritos from the gas station or a crusty, whole grain loaf from the bakery next door. You are what you eat. Literally.
The Ibérico Pig's Cost of Living
One of the biggest reasons for the Ibérico price tag is the living conditions. As we mentioned before, Ibérico pigs are never administered any antibiotics or hormones, which keeps their growth steady and energy levels up. These pigs also have an exceptional amount of land for grazing— actual farms with space, shade, and grasses to roll around in.
They’re not packed into industrial crates, which, along with being inhumane, is also bad for the meat and the environment. While this may seem exceptional, and one of those wild animal-friendly claims you rarely see in the U.S., farrowing crates aren’t even a thing in Spain. Pigs always have space to roam.
Land, of course, costs money and these large acreages require upkeep. But Spain is dedicated to keeping it this way, regardless of how easily it would be to slip into the industrialized pork world. In fact, Spain is so committed to delicious pork that Ibérico farms are heavily regulated by a branch of the government that specializes in the quality control of Spain’s best food products.
This is more than just ensuring the place is sterilized, it’s about checking production standards— ensuring that pig farmers aren’t cutting corners and are producing quality meat Spain can be proud to cook, eat, and sell.
The Right Price for Ibérico Pork
When you think about all these factors, Ibérico pork doesn’t seem so expensive after all. A cut of quality Ibérico pork requires so much care for the land, the pig, and the people who get it to your doorstep. It’s this type of luxury— one packed with nutrition and exceptional flavor — that we think just makes sense to incorporate into our lives. When you go Ibérico you’re taking care of the land, independent farmers, your body, and of course, your tastebuds. It’s worth every dollar.