If you’re into premium ham, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Serrano and Iberico. The latter is considered the king of hams and ham of kings! And although Iberico’s quality is unmatched, and there are significant differences in the production process compared to Serrano, the most crucial distinction between the two most popular types of Spanish ham is the type of pig used to make the sweet and savory delicacy.
Here’s all you need to know about the breeds of pigs used to make Spanish ham, including all the information about the almost legendary Iberico pig. Let’s meet the stars of the show, the pigs!
1. Large White Pig
Do you remember Babe? From that movie? What about Oscar Mayer's Advertising? Or perhaps you’re more familiarized with Peppa Pig’s cartoons. Well, these are all Large White pigs, and they come from Yorkshire — these are those pink-skinned pigs we all picture when thinking of the farm animal.
Well, most pork consumed worldwide comes from this breed, and although it’s delicious in wiener sausages, it’s also used to make Spanish ham. Producers might use this commercial breed to make Jamon, which is often mild and less fatty. It comes without saying you can only make Serrano ham with large white pigs; you can’t make ham of the highest quality tier.
2. Landrace Pigs
This pig has a Danish origin, and it also has pink skin. This race is priced for its ability to cross well with other pig varieties, and it has a fantastic carcass weight. It’s easy to see why many breeders specialize in Landrace pigs, and although they’re very profitable, they’re often used to make sausages and other products, and not so much cured ham, although there are exceptions.
Landrace pigs often share their home with Large Whites or Duroc pigs. And although not widely advertised, a good deal of pork-based products in your diet are made with this breed.
3. Duroc Pigs
Duroc is hands down the most extraordinary non-Spanish pig breed in the Iberian country. This one was bred initially in America, and the reddish pig can reach grow to weigh 1000 pounds! That’s almost three Iberico pigs.
Duroc’s meat is prized for its high intramuscular fat, so the meat is flavorful and fatty. Producers can make sausages and other cured meats of excellent quality with Duroc, which has made it quite a popular breed.
Some high-quality Spanish hams are made with crosses between Duroc and Iberico pigs, although the highest quality is reserved for 100% Iberico ham.
4. Iberico Pigs
These are the authentic Spanish pigs, and they’re perfectly adapted to Spain’s climate. There are many varieties of Iberico pigs, all descendant from wild boars. Some are black and hairless, and others dotted or beautifuly reddish-brown. These all have in common that they’re pretty small; they reach an average weight of 350 pounds. They also have extraordinary intramuscular fat levels, though, so their meat is insanely flavorful.
Iberico pigs thrive in the Dehesas, the extensive pastures with acorn and cork trees found in Southern Spain. Actually, the finest ham comes from Iberico pigs that roam freely, and they feed on acorns!
It comes without saying the best Spanish ham comes from this ancient breed; they’re one of Spain’s most prized treasures.