Iberian Ham Process, curing jamón ibérico

The Natural Process of Jamón Ibérico;

Before producing Iberian ham must raise the Iberian pig, of course. The reason for this lies in the importance of age at slaughter and training that has been under the pig, because as both factors increase, so does the proportion of “red” muscle fibers, reducing, in furthermore, the presence of “white” fibers, a circumstance which is determinative of the ultimate quality of the Jamón Ibérico. The development process of Iberian Ham begins, therefore, in the care of the animal, which throughout its life has an individual control reaching end with the identification of each piece of Iberian Ham.

The Iberian Ham derived from Iberian pigs, whose life extended scheme, making use of productions pastures with oak, cork and oak that provide these animals of three key features:

Functional gymnastics performed during grazing and “montanera” that will provide a strong backbone and a strong musculature, with special texture and muscular hardness in anatomical regions that compose the ham.

Spontaneous feeding will lead to specific flavor and color of the meat of Iberian Pigs and consequently their products. The entry in “montanera” shall not be made until 14 months, so the meat is already made and make an appropriate fatty infiltration.

The good Iberian Ham will come from “montanera” feeding pigs until slaughter the pigs for two main reasons: the existence of essential oils in the acorn, the flavor of which is incorporated into the meat of the animal and that the fat produced by this type of feeding is more fluid and the sweat of the hams were distributed more evenly between the muscle fibers.

The Process of making Iberian Ham:

The simplest method of preparation is to squeeze well. Once the ham has been cut from the pig to remove all blood, lying on a table left , one by one, for two or three days , in order that the meat feels and lose some moisture. Then must be on a board or inclined table covering them with salt everywhere, adding some nitro (potassium nitrate) so that the meat is firmer and embodied. Salty hams are left for 20 or 30 days, until we see that the salt has penetrated. Every two or three days at the beginning, turn hams from bottom to top and add more salt if it had been melted. In between this time, tend to be four or five days in press, for which they are placed between two tables loading up enough weight. As for the actual process of preparing the ham, not radically different from what has been described : once finished the process and weigh up the ham, we proceed to a flash cooling to the temperature of the muscle down to 8º C during the next 12 hours in the center of the ham.

Currently, in large productions, the “Ham Master” drives and controls all processing stages to make Ham: cutting, salting, post-salting or settlement, washing, drying and natural maturation or aging cellar processes that are required for obtaining Jamón Ibérico.

The cutting is done according to the following phases: holding the jam from the metatarsal region. Cut the Ham Coat in circular section at the level of the knee. Courts in the abdominal walls separating the ham and discharge of bacon. Section on the rump and buttock meet with coat and abdominal cuts. Separation of pork muscle layers that show hip-covered bacon.

Once obtained the pieces proceeding to bleeding or drained by pressure until no blood from the femoral and saphenous veins to output remove the retained blood remains. Currently there are machines of bleeding hams by pressure rollers.

Refrigerate for 24 hours at 0-1ºC in a camera.

Cut ham skin in V.

Cool until we get inside ham meat 8ºC and then go to salting. The pH of the hams will be between 5.5 and 6, temperature of 3 to 5 º C inside the muscle mass. The alkalinity of ham provokes easily microbial contamination, which can be done by nodal pathways, blood or synovial, leading to problems.

Salting involves contacting the ham with salt to penetrate inside. This process is done by burying the pieces into piles of salt and keeping them covered over a variable period of time in the proportion of about one day per kilogram of weight.

Salting is done in piles or containers with natural salts which must not exceed 8 hams and maintained in salt 1 day per kg of ham. The chamber temperature salting is 5 º C and a relative humidity of 88%. Proceed to flip the pile so that the hams were top pass down and backwards. The natural and marine salt penetrates tissue ham by diffusion. During this time an interesting phenomenon occurs, juice output from the muscle of the ham, which dissolves the salt to move subsequently into the ham by a diffusion mechanism. The salting chamber should have an inclination toward the drain, where should go exudates ham, avoiding excess moisture that would create an unfavorable environment for the drying process. The deficiency or excess can be determined by salting analysis chlorides.

The post-salting or settlement is when the ham is removed from the pile having already taken all the salt that needs until the end of the process. However, salt is concentrated in the surface of the ham, while the interior parts contain virtually no salt. Therefore, a post-salting period, or settlement is needed, when by diffusion process tends to a uniform salt concentration to reach the exact distribution of salt needed for the ham. The minimum duration of the settlement, is variable and is a function of the fat content of each piece as saltwater intrusion diffusion is strongly influenced by the presence of fat. In a normal weather conditions this process usually lasts between 40 and 60 days. Another important factor is that while salt is penetrating into the ham, water from the ham is going out with consequent loss of moisture from the surface. Therefore, it is necessary to have a tight control of the relative humidity of the chamber where the hams are kept , as well as the own temperature control that from the 5ºC initial should evolve to 25 or 30ºC at the time that the ham are moved to natural drying.

Washing with pressurized hot water: is performed to remove surface salt, for which the hams are placed in a container in which there are brushes. Currently there are automatic machines to carry out the washing and rubbing of the parts. It is important that the salt is clean and that the washing is correct to prevent the deposit of the salt in the outside skin of the ham which could inhibits the growth of the flora. In some areas, after washing the macerated molded ham is done by hammer blows or strokes in table to the desired shape.

After this phase of drying the problems begin because the ham will be exposed, with nothing to protect, given the low antiseptic value that can be assigned to salt, to climatic variations, bacterial contamination, environmental assaults, parasitism etc.. In other productions, all these problems would be saved in a perfectly controlled environment at all times and giving treatment that required the product status. But in this case begin to play a number of factors beyond the control of man and whose correctness is tied to a number of practical empirical characters, perfect and timely applied will make the ham a completely different product worldwide, the best ham in the world.

The drying temperature for ham should start being soft and the relative humidity as low as possible, but like all natural drying depends on the benevolence of weather conditions and control can be effected by opening and closing windows, as temperature and prevailing wind is in each climatological moment, ensuring that the temperature does not rise or drop suddenly. The drying cameras are special, hence there are few sites or locations where you can do a ham with assurance the correct quality. It is unquestionable that a good dryer should allow this operation in an absolutely natural way without action by any procedure not according to tradition and practice. This fact is so important that the same area gives different drying, different products, and even in the same dryer the final result will depend on its characteristics and the skill of the “Ham Master”, based on total dedication and experience that has to combine the factors of altitude, climate, moisture content, daily variations of temperature and air speed, as Mother Nature is going to give, directing a process whose end is unmatched obtaining Jamón Ibérico.

Finally, it is the drying process that takes place in the natural drying, which complete maturation, or set of amendments, which make the meat will become the prized Iberico. Basically a series of complex and interrelated metabolic processes occur, and whose ultimate validity depends not only on the extent of the processes, but the balance established between them for nearly 36 months healing time experienced by the Iberian ham. Two factors should be standing out, however, during this drying process: first, the humidity of the air, and the other the constant changes in atmospheric pressure.

These facts are crucial from the moment that condition the existence of all flora, both bacterial and mycological, and that lead to maturation as unique and exquisite feature of Iberian ham. To this we must also join the special handling of the pieces very decisive influence on the above processes. Dried hams will have from 36 to 38 g of salt per kg at the end of final processes.

The sweat phase, as above, should be a natural process, to encourage the dissemination of fat, almost melt to be introduced between the muscle fibers, that once impregnated retain the aroma. Sweated duration is variable, but in ideal conditions for 2-3 months with temperatures 30-35ºC and relative humidity of 70%.

Once ham matured part is over, it passes the process called “aging”, and which is held in cellars, able to maintain an average temperature of 10-12ºC and relative humidity of about 80%, for a period of 18 months before the ham is going to be on a market. As a result of curing, the water content of the meat is reduced and therefore the Iberian ham achieves higher solids concentration, finally reaching the aroma and taste so distinctive and unmatched elsewhere in the world.

Both a good natural dryer, like a good cellar, they must support these operations in an absolutely natural, without action by any procedure not by normal tradition and practice. It’s a matter of sensitivity, because the final result will depend on the characteristics of the dryer itself and the ability of people in the work, and with total dedication and experience to combine the factors of altitude, climate, moisture content, daily variations of temperature, air speed and heading a process whose end is obtaining unique Iberian ham, Jamón Ibérico.

Now that you have seen the process of developing the Iberian ham, suppose it is easier to understand the series of circumstances that do not exist anywhere else in the world and make the Jamón Ibérico best worldwide, as we report in our previous article.

In a following article we will explain what gives the human body Iberian ham consumption…interesting.

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