Most Spanish ham is of excellent quality and delicious, but the jewel in the crown is undoubtedly acorn-fed ibérico ham. 100% jamón ibérico bellota can only be made from the indigenous black pig. They have slender legs with black hooves, the pata negra which name is often applied to the various cuts of meat.
The animals roam freely around the dehesa or natural pastureland in central and south-western Spain and graze on large quantities of acorns from the holm oaks which are dotted around the area. This roaming habit helps to store fat in the muscles and the acorns provide the unique and sought-after nutty flavour.
Whilst this is the most important factor, the various methods of development in different regions and their climate and altitude all have an effect on the finished product.
There are four Protected Designations of Origin for Ibérico ham. These are PDO Valle de los Pedroches in Córdoba (Andalusia), PDO Guijuelo in Salamanca (Castile-León), PDO Dehesa de Extremadura in Extremadura, and PDO Jabugo in Huelva (Andalusia). This is the only ham allowed to use a black label and is sometimes referred to as black-label ham.
The curing process normally takes three years, though some producers cure their hams for even longer. The final sliced ham should be so thin as to be translucent and quite literally melts in the mouth. Another interesting thing is the fat in ibérico ham actually increases good cholesterol and decreases bad cholesterol, so apart from the cost perhaps, you need feel no guilt about this particular pleasure!