Choosing to rent a car for the 5 hour journey from Madrid to Seville was an easy choice, allowing us the freedom to explore some of the areas otherwise missed. Since arriving in Spain we have eaten our fair share of Jamón ibérico, but the Chef wanted to see the production for himself so we headed to Andalucía. About an hour north of Seville, Jamones Eíriz Jabugo has been operating in the same tiny town of Puerto Gil since 1818. This family run farm is located way off the beaten path, tucked in the back corner of NARROW one lane roads hugging the hillside. The drive up was breathtaking as we twisted through the oak forests, getting our first glimpse of those famous black pigs gorging on acorns. By far one of the most scenic areas either of us had ever been.
Finally arriving at Eíriz, we were led to the field where their pigs were kept. Due to Spanish Ibérico regulations they can only raise 15-20 pigs on their land, but for this family business it is more about curing the ham than raising pigs. Since they cannot raise near enough pigs for annual production, Eíriz purchases their animals from certified farmers only using the front and back legs and the loin for their high-quality product. The rest of the animal is sold back to the butcher. The butchering of the animals is done very humanly, keeping the stress level of the animal at an absolute minimum so to not affect the quality of the meat. This initial phase of the process takes place between December and Early March, when the pigs are at their fattest eating close to 15KG of acorns a day. Due to the timing of our visit we only saw the little baby pigs which will be ready in about 2 years.
Dressed in food production attire of long sterile robes, hair nets, and shoe covers, it was time for our first look into the process. We were led to a room where three women were processing lomo, the product in which the loins are marinated in a mixture of paprika, salt and other spices, then stuffed into casing and hung to out for months to cure. Every process at Eíriz is still done by hand, setting them apart from the other major producers in the area.
Our guide then led us to the salt room where hundreds of legs were packed in sea salt for up to 2 weeks to begin the curing process. They are then rinsed and hung up in the natural curing rooms (another difference between Eíriz and many other producers and only found in Andalucía due to its perfect climate) to complete the aging over the next couple years. Buyers can visit the farm and hand pick their leg based on type, weight, fat content, and many other factors.
One very interesting thing explained during our time at Eíriz was the difference between the color labels on the Jamón ibérico and what they mean. Ibérico pigs are known and famous for being very fatty, and while this is optimal many people don’t want to pay for something that ultimately gets cut away and trashed. Thus, cross breeding between the black Ibérico pigs from Andalucía and red pigs from the US started reducing the fat content in the animal. Black and Red label legs are the top quality produced, made from 85% – 100% wild grazing Ibérico pigs. The white and green label legs are still a quality product, at least 50% Ibérico, but these are the animals that have been cross bred for higher muscle content. It is because of this that farming is highly regulated and farms certified for accuracy. Additionally, contrary to what we believed, you cannot have 100% acorn fed animals because the highest quality animals are grazing on whatever they can find in the earth such as grubs and roots, thus diet cannot be controlled 100%.
The tour ended in the old curing room (now converted to tasting room) where we were served huge plates of Jamon paired with local wines. The difference between the black label and green label jamon was easily identifiable when placed side by side. A beautiful and educational experience into the region’s most coveted product.