About black iberian pigs or pata negra.
The black iberian pig, is a breed, of the domestic pig that can be found in Spain and Portugal.
Origins of the black iberian pig.
There are several theories about the origins of the black iberian pig, most of them agree that this unique animal is a breed of wild boars (Sus Scrofa and Sus Mediterraneus) with domestic pigs (Sus Scrofa Domesticus).
The story goes that the first domesticated pigs were brought to the Iberian peninsula by the Phoenicians from what is today Lebanon and Syria. The interbreeding of those with local wild boars gave rise to the first black iberian pigs around 1000 B.C.
As you can see, it took the Spaniards 3000 years to share with the rest of the world the best ham in the world!
The black iberian pig -also known as pata negra or black hoof- is closely linked to a Mediterranean ecosystem called dehesa.
Dehesas are large fields of land with sparse oaks or holm oaks that produce acorns -bellota in Spanish- and low yields of cereal. Dehesas are found in the south and west of Spain.
In return for the bellotas from oaks, pata negra pigs clean the land from unwanted grasses and fertilize the field, preserving rather than destroying their habitat.
No more than two animals are allowed per hectare (2.4 Acres) of dehesa and since the trees needed to feed the pigs take a minimum of forty years to yield a reasonable amount of acorns, the chances of new dehesas being created are slim.
Jamon iberico de bellota -the most precious of the iberico ham varieties- is and will remain a scarce product.
Black hoof pigs tolerate well the very high temperatures of the region (above 40ºC, 100ºF), can survive to droughts and need significantly fewer resources than its "pink" counterparts, pata negra pigs are thus environmentally friendly.
Did you know that iberico ham and wine, two key ingredients of the super healthy Mediterranean diet are closely related? In fact, the preferred food of cerdos ibericos (as the black iberian pigs are known in Spanish) are the fruits of the Quercus Suber, the tree where natural cork is extracted from.
The look of pata negra pigs.
Contrarily to what is commonly known, not all the animals are completely black.
The color of cerdos ibericos ranges from grey, to brown and to black. Black iberian pigs have short or no hair and a very characteristic round shape which makes them very cute and of course they have the black hoof that made them famous.
Most people tend to think that all ham with a black hoof is iberico, while this is generally true, the high price and limited availability of iberico animals has led to some counterfeits... sometimes hoofs are painted in black or, a more elaborated technique, uses a type of domestic pig whose hoofs are also black -colored but that is not from black iberian breed and has not been eating acorns.
A tip: always buy your iberico ham from a trusted source like Buyjamon.com.
Pata negra are smaller than "pink" domestic pigs, this is due to genetic reasons (they are closely related to wild boars) but also to their continuous exercise and natural diet. Acorns are rich in healthy fatty acids, just like olive oil and phenols like in wine!
The diet of pata negra pigs.
The dehesa is a diverse ecosystem sustaining up to four different types of oaks that are crucial in the production of iberico de bellota hams.
The majority of the acorn volume comes from holm oaks, unfortunately the season when these trees yield fruits -called montanera in Spanish- is quite short.
The rest of the year, black iberian pigs feed on the acorns of Spanish oak, gall oak and cork oaks. All in, pigs can enjoy an acorn diet from September to April.
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