Day 6: Iberian Pigs & Hams and the Cathedral

Tucked away in the southwest of Spain in the town of Huelva is ei`riz – an Iberian ham and loin progressing plant which includes a small acorn-fed outdoor swine farm. The piglets born today in their system will have product ready in 5-6 years.

Raising Iberian Pigs
There are very specific government standards to raise pigs and label them as Iberian pigs. The most referred-to standard is that the pigs must be fed acorns to develop the unique flavor for at least 2 months (between October and February), but there are other DO (overseeing government body) requirements such as minimum of 1 hectare (ha) per animal which is in place to ensure the pigs can eat 10-13 kg of acorns per day. Half the acorns come from alcornoque (bitter) and half come from encina (sweet) oak trees that are shaken daily to knock acorns off the trees.

Unlike the rest of Spain, in this part of the pigs can be kept outside because of the moderate temperatures and the lack of predators (wolves were hunted out by the 70s). Besides the acorns, the animals are supplemented every day with corn. No minerals or vitamins are used because it was stated those nutrients are obtained from the environment and wallowing in the mud and scratching on the trees controls the parasites. This farm gets their 13 pigs after weaning at 2 months and raise them until they are around 400lbs for 2 years; most in Spain are around a year old prior to slaughter. All pigs receive 3 different injections (vaccinations) to control prevalent diseases.

Sadly, the 2 month old pigs were not located during the visit, but we made memories hiking around in the cool, refreshing downpour looking for them.

Come out, come out where ever you are, little piggies

The company slaughters theirs and ~2000 others from 15 other farmers each year at a local progressing facility. All they keep are the loin and front and back legs. The rest of the animal is left with the plant to cover the processing costs. Each piece is tagged to identify home farm and individual animal and graded using the Iberian grading system- black (premium), red and green (typical Iberian products), and white.

Processing & Marketing
The plant makes Iberian ham, sausage, and loins using historical practices in a facility with a traditional natural flora to create the unique flavor. (See loin recipe below). The famous hams are salted with Atlantic salt and still turned by hand for a total of 15 days before being washed placed in a cooler that slowly raises the temperature from 0-7C over 7-10 days. The hams are then hung for 6-7 months to dry in ambient temperatures before being moved to the bottom levels for the next 1.5-2 years since the top rooms get too warm. There is an official Iberian ham grading system and is denoted by black, red, green, or white attached tags. Over 70% of ei`riz’s product is sold in Spain with the remainder sold throughout Europe. Most retailers and individuals buy Iberian product during the first part of the year for the entire year and freeze because it is too warm in the summer to process the product properly. Because of phytosantiary restrictions they are not approved to ship to the USA.

The guide Jesus talking about the unique micro-climate at their facility which makes their product unique

The company also has daily field trip packages which in addition to seeing the pigs and the process one can include a fabulous ‘gastronomic journey’ in which you can learn the proper way to slice an Iberian ham, compare between different types of hams, and enjoy many courses of meat, bread, cheese, and local wine. (Class ALP17 highly recommends the entire experience).

Enjoying the ham, cheese, and wine after the tour and cutting demonstrations.

Special thanks to Jesus, Belen, Patricia, and the owner Senor Domingo Martin (aka The Ham Master) for a great experience!

Part of Class 17 going with the hairnet and frock look after hunting for pigs in the rain earlier

ei`riz Traditional Iberian Loin

Beef Intestine Casing

1. Marinate loin in the desired amount at paprika and salt (need at least 5% to help in preservation of the product for 6 days at 2C.
2. Wash the product.
3. Chill the loins for 10 days at 10C
4. Stuff the loin in the intestine (preferably with the cool machine they have)
5. Hang the cased loin for 7-10 days in cooler going from 0-7C
6. Slice thinly when ready to consume.

The Seville Cathedral

The day’s tour concluded at the Cathedral- the one of the world’s largest churches. Christopher Columbus’s tomb, ornate representations of biblical stories and fascinating history are scattered throughout the cathedral. Add it to your list of must visits in Spain, and make sure to walk up the ramps to see the view from the top of the bell tower.

Thanks for continuing to follow our #ALP17 international experiences here on the blog and online with #ALP17.