When I travel through Spain between autumn and spring, it is a delight to observe the peace with which the pigs move through the pastures in search of acorns, a luxury food that later determines the quality of the ham. Please don’t believe in the the story that all Iberico hams are the same!
Between October and March, the meadows, those extensive forests made up of holm oaks and cork oaks, experience frenzied activity. Here the so-called “montanera” takes place, the last stage of Iberico pig breeding, which is decisive in the quality and flavor of the famous 100% Iberico acorn-fed ham.
The swineherds let the animal graze freely in the pastures for its final fattening. For a minimum of 60 days, the pigs roam in total freedom, without stress and feeding on acorns, herbs and other natural resources of the Dehesa. Iberico pigs arrive weighing about 220 pounds (100 kg) and are slaughtered with approximately 385 pounds (175 kg), or even double the initial weight. Although it seems incredible, these “children” eat about 20 pounds of acorns a day, gaining 2.2 pounds a day.
But please, nobody get confused here. A pasture is not just any lost mountain in the Iberian Peninsula, but a unique ecosystem, derived from the Mediterranean forest. It comes from the Latin “defesa” that means “defense or prohibited zone” and it is a place reserved for grazing free-range cattle. In Spain, the pastures have many holm oak trees that are the ones that produce the preferred food of the Iberico pig: the acorn. But there are also other fruits, since there is a great plant biodiversity. To take care of it there is a limit to the number of animals that can live freely on it.
The quantity and quality of the acorn depends mainly on the climate, in other words, mother nature. Both drought and excessive rain are direct enemies of the proper ripening of the acorn. As with wine, there is talk of “vintages” to rate the success of the montanera and even the price of the acorn-fed Iberico pig every year.
From now on, every time you eat 100% Iberico Fermín acorn-fed ham or any product under this category, you will know where its unique flavor and quality comes from: from the peace of the montanera.
Written by: Doreen Colondres
Fermin Chef Ambassador