Best Spanish Hams: Definitive Guide (2021)

Ham is one of the star products of the Mediterranean culture. This product is increasingly popular not only in Spain, but in many countries around the world.


There is a great variety of hams, depending on the designation of origin, the breed of the pig, the animal's diet, the preparation of the ham ... And a good combination of all these factors makes some hams achieve excellence. When this is achieved, tasting this succulent delicacy becomes a unique culinary experience.


In this article we are going to show the best hams on the market. The best ham brands have something in common besides the unmatched characteristics of their products. And it is that ... ALL COME FROM SPAIN !! Talking about the best ham in the world and the best ham in Spain is talking about the same thing. And it is that the best Spanish ham brands have raw material, conditions and experience that are unattainable at the moment by the rest of the producers.


With a wide range of prices but with extreme quality, these hams must be tasted by anyone who loves this product, to discover what a top quality ham really is.


In the world of Ham there are fewer competitions than in other fields such as olive oil or wine. Most of them are held in Spanish territory, and some in local food fairs in different parts of the world. However, the most valued hams are not usually presented every year, due to the cost that this entails or because the company's business strategy does not include a strategic plan to obtain these awards.


But all these hams always remain in the top positions of the contests they choose. For this reason, the number of medals is not decisive to assess the excellence of the ham, but it is more important to consider what positions are reached in the competitions to which they are presented.


In the end, what makes the difference between these hams and the rest are their qualities and characteristics, and the consumer experience when tasting them.



WHAT IS THE BEST HAM IN THE WORLD?


As we explained above, the best ham in the world is of Spanish origin. However, within the broad Spanish geography, there are different regions that have sufficiently differentiated characteristics for their hams to have a special recognition. Some of them even have the Protected Designation of Origin, such as Jabugo (Huelva), Guijuelo (Salamanca), Dehesa de Extremadura (Extremadura) or Los Pedroches (Córdoba). These are the main producing regions of the best Iberian hams in the world.


But to the surprise of many, the best ham in the world is not the Iberico de bellota, nor the pata negra. Currently, the best in the world is the Manchado de Jabugo. It is made in the province of Huelva from an exclusive, unknown and rare breed.


As we have indicated, this specimen of pure Iberian Manchado de Jabugo from the Dehesa de Maladúa is exclusive and rare. Their diet is totally organic, they drink of the water of the fountain and live in freedom with 5 hectares for each animal. In addition, they walk between 10 and 15 kilometers a day.

The curing that makes this product exclusive can take up to six years, while it can take up to 10 to be able to sell it. The owners and breeder of these hams only produces few hundreds hams a year.


All the features that we have mentioned before makes it the best in the world. As is obvious, the price of this product is high, exceeding 4,000 euros each piece.


El Manchado de Jabugo is a pure Iberian pig that succumbed to swine fever and the industrialization of the sector. Only the small farmers kept specimens for their own consumption and sold those of the most well-known varieties, of which 22,559 specimens currently exist in the meadows registered in the Jamón de Huelva designation of origin.


The reasons for the ranchers to relegate Manchado de Jabugo were that it is a slow growing variety, less prolific and, at times, the legs lack the black pigment in the hooves that have become a trademark of Iberian ham.


These specimens of Manchado de Jabugo with strictly organic breeding (they live freely among streams, waterfalls and oak forests, no artificial chemical substance is supplied and only eat the acorns of the holm oaks and the grass of the field) take about three years to reach the average marketing weight. Their congeners are ready between 14 and 18 months and few breeders are willing to wait any longer to make the investment profitable.


In addition, the exclusive ham takes up to six years to cure in the cellar. In this way, from when the pig is born until its leg is sold, almost a decade passes during which it only causes expenses.



What does the Manchado de Jabugo Ham taste like?


The strictly natural diet of Manchado de Jabugo increases the presence of sapid molecules (those that provide flavor) and aromatic molecules in the ham. Its excellence has also been endorsed by the Department of Bromatology and Food Technology of the University of Córdoba after a tasting with 10 professionals, according to international standards. From that test the following card was made: intensity of color, dark and very bright aspect of the lean; fat, white in color and fluid consistency; aromatic intensity, high with toasted notes of nuts and bread crust; Basic flavors, sweet and salty, balanced; tasty and juicy texture.



Best Spanish Ham Brands:



#1 Dehesa Maladúa


Dehesa Maladúa is a ham producing company located in the province of Huelva. It is a pioneering brand in Spain and has a 100% organic production, certified and recognized by multiple international organizations.


Dehesa Maladúa has the honor of being one of the most expensive ham in Spain. The price of Dehesa Maladúa can easily exceed € 4,000 per piece. Despite this, it is a highly valued exclusive product and they manage to sell their entire production every year. This is thanks to the enormous quality of its hams, its brand image and its ecological recognition. For this reason it is considered one of the best hams in Spain.



The pastures where they raise their animals are located in the province of Huelva, specifically in the Natural Park of the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche, an area known as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. An environment full of holm oaks, cork oaks and queijos where pigs roam freely and naturally obtain a high quality diet based on plants and acorns, combined with periods of montanera. The care that this company gives to the environment gives them a recognition that few companies that produce Iberian products have today.


The specimens that this company breeds are the purest Iberian breed, with the qualities and characteristics that their genetics reflect in the quality of the ham.



#2 Cinco Jotas


Cinco Jotas is a brand that produces Iberian ham from the province of Huelva. Its origins date back to 1879. More than a century of history and most importantly, more than a century of experience making one of the best hams in the world.


The Cinco Jotas pigs are raised in the wild in the centenary pastures of southwestern Spain, specifically in the Jabugo region. This area has specific natural and climatological properties that provide the pigs that live in them with unmatched characteristics. From two months to a year and a half or two years of age. In this period of freedom, they feed autonomously from the earth's natural resources. That is, wild and dried fruits, roots, mushrooms, herbs, plants ...


In addition, all its specimens belong 100% to the pure Iberian breed, the species with the most taste qualities. That is why all the legs that this brand produces obtain the recognition of “black label”.


#3 Joselito


Joselito is one of the best known Iberian ham brand inside and outside of Spain. Cured in Guijuelo, about 40,000 are sold a year, after a period in the cellar of between 24 and 30 months. With more than 100 years of experience and 6 generations working to produce one of the best hams in the world, this brand works every day to offer the best quality of life to its pigs, who live in total freedom, with an exquisite diet stress-free throughout its life, making it a unique ham


It is the only Iberian ham that is neither assigned to a designation of origin, nor certified by the Iberian Standard. That is why the term Iberian ham does not appear on its packaging, nor does it wear the seals (black, red, green or white) stipulated by the ministry. Legally it is only allowed to put Joselito Ham, and that is what it says. A pioneering company in countless aspects from marketing to research, they were the first to catalog their hams by vintages, something in which a multitude of ham holders have imitated them.



#4 Sierra Mayor de Jabugo


The award-winning ham, fed exclusively on acorns and herbs, comes from a 100% pure Iberian pig processed at two years of age. The production process of this ham, with a final weight of more than 10 kg, exceeded 5 years in January 2020, as the company explains, “following at all times the slow process of drying and natural maturation and traditional of the Huelva mountain range that, in a particular way, is influenced by the environment of the Aracena reservoir, which serves as an extraordinary moderator and tuner of the Iberian products of Corteconcepción, perhaps the best enclave in Spain for the curing of Iberian hams and shoulders.


Three factors define Sierra Mayor products:


Its natural production process, in dryers and cellars without machines that regulate its humidity and temperature, only conditioned by the microclimate and microflora of the area.

The experience and good work of this master ham maker, who since 1987 has been controlling the process to guarantee the best flavor and aroma.

The limited production and sustainability, directly controlling the process, from the Iberian pigs and the pastures where they are fed, to the production and marketing of meats, hams, shoulders and sausages.


#5 Juan Pedro Domecq


This company produces a very special Iberian variety: the hairless mamelled breed, which is almost extinct today and that the company have preserved over time, after an exhaustive selection process.



Their farm is a meadow of holm oaks and pastures in the Province of Seville, bordering the Sierra de Huelva, about 50 km from Jabugo. The dehesa is the natural habitat of the Iberian pig, which has become a fundamental piece to preserve this typically Spanish ecosystem. Their pigs graze in the pasture since they are piglets, enjoying almost 18 months of free rearing, 4 of them in montanera, thus lengthening the period of their feeding with acorn.


Production follows a 100% handmade method: Juan Pedro Domecq bets on artisanal methods and their process is fundamentally based on tradition.



#7 Iberian ham Carrasco Guijuelo


Another of the leading ham companies in Guijuelo both for the quality of the product they sell and for their commitment to research. Santos Carrasco, father of the current managers of the company, laid the foundations of the D.O.P Guijuelo and put the name of the Salamanca city on the map of gourmets. His sons have followed in his footsteps and have brought Iberian pork to the European and Asian markets. They have their own livestock but they also buy pigs from farmers with whom they have had a relationship for years, to meet the demand.


Contrary to what others do, they market all their 100% acorn-fed Iberian hams under the same label, without creating limited or special editions. These are pieces between 7.5 and 8 kilos that are sold at 585 euros, obtained from pure Iberian pigs fed with acorn during the montanera. Sweet hams, with transparent fat that melts to the touch and leaves aromas of the countryside in the aftertaste. They can be purchased in their own establishments, gourmet shops and on their website. They are one of the most established brands in restoration, especially in the Basque Country.


#8 Maldonado Iberian Ham (Albarragena)


Extremadura Manuel Maldonado has been a radical defender of the purity of the Iberian breed. Maldonado only works with Iberian pigs registered in the herd books. Since 1962, Manuel and Sabas - his father - have sought the best lineages to achieve absolutely spectacular pigs, which are raised in the pasture, extensively throughout their lives. The best of them become part of the Albarragena project, the only ham in the world with DNA analysis. To feed these specimens between 6 and 10 hectares of pasture are used per animal, twice the usual amount. Pigs that start the montanera with 70 kilos and finish it with 180 kilos on average. Their hams are cured in natural dryers for more than 4 years, reaching an oleic acid profile of 58% (53% is the minimum stipulated by law to be called acorn).



The price of the 7 kilos pieces is 645 euros in El Corte Inglés. They also commercialize Arcano, pieces in which 100% of the skin and fat of the ham are preserved, as was done in the past.


#9 Iberian Ham Covap


The Cooperativa del Valle de los Pedroches is the most representative company of the D.O.P Valle de los Pedroches, one of the four protected denominations of origin that Iberian ham has in Spain. 75% of the hams produced under this name are 100% Iberian breed fed with acorn. Covap's Alta Expresión brand are hams and shoulders that come from 100% Iberian pigs fed with acorn during the montanera.



Pieces endorsed by the seals of the D.O.P and the Iberian Quality Standard, from the vintage (2015-2016) with more than 36 months of curing The sale price per pieces is 510 euros. There is also the Limited Edition High Expression of the Pedroches 2014. Pieces of 9 kilos, in a gift box at a price of 995 euros. They offer a wide range of products including field bait (green label), much cheaper.


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