Iberico ham is truly special, only 10% of total Jamon production is made from the Iberian pig. This together with its special organoleptic qualities makes Iberico ham highly sought after and expensive. To be certified as Jamon Iberico, the ham must be made from a special breed of black Iberian pig (either pure breed or mixed). This variety of pig is found in the Iberian peninsula and produces a truly unique product with a more intense flavour, higher proportion of healthy fats and distinctive texture.
You can expect to pay at least 3x price per kilo for Iberico vs Serrano ham but this can go much, much higher depending on the grade. The record for the most expensive leg of ham commercially available is an Iberian "Manchado de Jabugo" which retails at £3,192 and is sold by Dehesa Maladúa.
Jamon Iberico is segmented into one of four grades which take into account the pedigree of the pig as well as its diet and lifestyle. All of these factors play a role in the quality of the ham even before the curation time is taken into account. The grading process is highly regulated and tamper-proof tags are attached to each ham to confirm authenticity. These grades and colour code are:
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota 100% (Black)
This is the highest and most expensive grade of Iberico ham as it is made from 100% purebred Iberian pigs which roam freely within oak forests (called Dehesas), eating a natural diet consisting mainly of acorns. The exercise and diet have a significant effect on the flavour of the meat which is cured for up to 3 years.
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (Red)
Like black labelled Iberico, this is also a Bellota (acorn) grade of Iberico ham and is made from Iberican pigs which are free to roam within oak forests. The only difference is that these pigs are crossbred and therefore not pure Iberians. However, the quality of the meat remains exceptional and delivers the same flavour and texture qualities from the acorn diet and exercise of the pigs.
Jamon Iberico de Cebo de Campo (Green)
This grade of Iberico ham is from pigs which roam free in pastures, grazing on grass, natural grains and legumes. The breed of the pig will range from 50%, 75% and even 100% purebred Iberians.
Jamon Iberico de Cebo (White)
This category is often referred to simply as Jamon Iberico and is for farm-reared pigs fed on a diet of grains and high-quality feed. The pigs will be at least 50% Iberian.
You may also have heard the term Pata Negra used. Pata Negra simply means Black Leg in Spanish and was how Ibérico ham was colloquially referred to in recognition that many Iberian pigs have black hooves. However, this term is not wholly accurate and was often misused. As such, this term is not recognised under the new legislation which introduced the current grading system detailed above.