Iberico is a very special cut of pork. A cut above the rest.
Joking aside, Iberico is really distinct from other cuts of pork. Visually different, it has a different taste, different texture, and involves different lifestyles for the pigs. Iberico is in a league all of its own regarding pork.
So, with all this hype you’re seeing about such a special cut of meat, you’re surely wondering by now: what’s the deal with Iberico pork?
What is Iberico pork?
Iberico pork comes from rare Iberico pigs. It’s quite special. When it’s raw, it’s a bright red color and almost looks like beef. It’s not white, like most pork.
The flavor is incredibly complex, sharing both qualities of beef and pork across a wide variety of cuts, and their lifestyles play an important role in such flavor and texture. It’s got an intensely sweet and almost floral flavor profile, but it’s also nutty and earthy. It is a complex profile, reminiscent of some salty cheeses like parmesan.
However, the complex flavor profile isn’t what makes this pork so unique. It’s the fat.
Iberico is a lean cut of meat with incredible marbling in the muscle fibers. This is a sure sign of the quality of the pork. That marbling makes an otherwise tough meat incredibly soft and melt-in-your-mouth tender.
What makes Iberico pork so special?
When you get down to it, the real difference in Iberico is the fat. They’re fed a diet heavy in acorns. Couple that with natural genetics, and the Iberian pigs are able to get a ton of marbling and fat into their muscles. This leads to a significantly more flavorful pork.
This fat isn’t your ordinary run-of-the-mill fat, either. A large portion of it is unsaturated oleic fat, which is the same type of fat found in olive oil. This fat is a major part of the Mediterranean diet, and is said to improve heart health and reduce cholesterol.
What makes Iberian pigs so special?
While a large part of what makes these pigs so special is their genetics, what sets them apart is the way they’re raised. They have a completely different life than the usual farm pigs we are familiar with.
Iberian pigs are raised in open areas, and are free to run over hills and tromp through the woods. All this physical activity encourages the fat from their acorn diet to infuse into their muscles.
These pigs are free to graze naturally during the spring and summer. Their main diet will consist of grass, mushrooms, bugs and wild herbs. From October to around March, the dehesas will start shedding their acorns.
The acorn is the most important component to the diet of Iberico pigs, and they eat a lot of them.
Why is Iberico pork so expensive?
Well, the reason is because this pork comes from a very unique breed of pig only found in Spain. They have a very special diet, and the farmers are required to have certifications that guarantee quality and authenticity.
Iberico is highly sought after for these reasons. It comes down to simple supply and demand. There’s more people who want Iberico than there is Iberico, thus, it’s scarce - driving up the value.
What are the Iberico cuts?
Iberico pork has a few special varieties of cuts.
- Iberico pluma - This is a special cut taken from the lower end of the loins. It’s the pork equivalent of the flank steak, and it’s quite delicate. It gets its name from the “sharp” pointed ends, as “pluma” means feather.
- Iberico Solomillo - This is the fillet - or tenderloin - which is the most succulent and tender piece of meat available. It comes from an unused muscle.
- Iberico Secreto - A sneaky little cut known as Spain’s greatest kept secret. The Secreto is a cut from the shoulder, hidden.
There are many other cuts from the Iberian pigs, these are just the ones you’ll be most likely to find.
Types of cured Iberico ham
Though all Iberico comes from the same place, it’s not all the same. There’s different labels that correspond with different types of pigs that have different classifications.
- Black label Iberian pigs are fed a complete diet of acorn. It’s called “pata negra” or black hoof. It’s the highest quality and considered 100% Iberico.
- Jamon Iberico De Bellota is the second tier. It’s technically 100% Iberico as well, as they’re fed nothing but acorns too. However, they’re considered as red label pigs because they’re a cross-breed of black Iberian pigs with a more common breed.
- Green label pigs are fed a mixture of acorns and grains.
- White label pigs are the lowest quality, and are fed only grain, while also not being free-range.
While there are many differences between Spaniards and other Westerners, one thing they have in common is a powerful love of pork. Iberico pigs are raised ethically and sustainably, and as a result we’re gifted with the delicious and special Iberico pork.