Since the times of the Spanish Inquisition ham has become an important part of the Spanish culture and represents a lot more than food for Spaniards! After 400 years they got pretty competitive at growing and curing these big, black pigs mastering the art of creating Pate Negra. Ham is so polular the Spanish dedicate entire bars to serving Jamons! Mainly 3 grades of ham exist here in Spain, but the incremental quality varies much more with factors including the type and size of pig time dry aging the meat, diet, and the region the pig is from among others.
Iberico is a region and a type of pig that is from the mountains filled with acorn trees. These black pigs feed on the grounds under acorn trees producing a super intense creaminess in the fat of the meat. The best pigs are finished by feeding them only acorns for the last 6 months of their lives before slaughter. These hams are called Iberico de Belotta. The finest Iberico pigs fed only on acorns for the last 6 months and then dry aged for over 4 years is referred to as Pate Negra. Spaniards attend ham cutting classes in order to learn how to artfully slice the hams razor thin as seen above.
Next time you go to Spain you must stop in a local jamon shop and try a sampling of the various qualities. Be sure and let me know what you try and you thoughts!