The hams and the picnic shoulders with "Dehesa de Extremadura" PDO come from pedigree Iberian swine, or from a crossbreed between the Iberian Duroc and Jersey (with a 75 % of Iberian blood and a 25 % of the Duroc-Jersey). These pigs should be marked (before turning seven years old) with a metallic piece in the right ear - the Iberian ones, and in the left ear - the crossbreed ones.
- Geography: this area extends all over the Extremadura Community, with over a million hectares, in Caceres and Badajoz provincies where there are fields marked with holm oaks and cork oaks where pigs can feed themselves with acorn fed pigs. There are 85 municipalities dedicated to manufacture and cure the hams and the picnic shoulders - 40 in Badajoz and 45 in Cáceres, specially in the Sierras in the SW of Badajoz, Ibor-Villuecas, at the S of Gredos, the Sierra Montánchez and the Sierra de San Pedro. These municipalities have got some ideal conditions for the development of the iberian swine or of the acorn fed pigs.
- Climate: this area presents a continental climate with a slight Atlantic influence. The annual medium temperature is about 16 or 17º C, and in the N is about 10º C. In summer, there could be 41º C and in winter, 3 or 4º C. The winter is rather long and with a dry climate with little rain, and the summers are short and very hot (the winds, the low humidity and the temperature make possible a correct curing of the spanish serrano hams).
- Classification: pigs are classified according to their food - there are several types of pigs:
- Acorn fed pigs - at first they weigh between 80 y 105 Kg., then they add some 60-70% more of its initial weight. These pigs are fed with acorn and some other grass.
- Fodder pigs - add some 30% more of their inital weight. The fodder used to feed them is authorized by the Consejo Regulador.
The acorn pigs should weigh initially at least 85 Kg
- Production: all the Iberian pigs arrive at the slaughterhouse with at least 24 hours before slaughtering, so that they could recover the glycogen levels in the muscles, and they relax. All the serrano hams with more than 6 kg and the picnic shoulders with less than 4 kg will be thrown away. The classification, according to the weight, is the following:
- Spanish serrano hams: from 6 to 8 Kg, from 8 to 11 Kg. and more than 11 Kg.
- Picnic shoulders: from 4 to 5 Kg. and more than 5 Kg.
The production of the serrano hams and of the picnic shoulders is made in a natural environment, following these phases:
- The salting: this phase consists of covering the muscle of the ham with regular salt and nitric salt, which help the drying and the conservation of the Iberian ham, and they also influence on the colour and flavour of the cured meat. When they reach half of the curing phase, the workers should turn the curing pieces so that the salt perfectly covers the entire area. This process must be done at a temperature from 1 to 5º C, and in a relative humidity of 80% or 90%. The process lasts according to the weight and toughness of the meat piece, approximately a day per each kilo of the meat piece.
- The washing: consists in eliminating the salt left on the surface of the hams and picnic shoulders. It is done with cold or lukewarm water, and then they should be left to drip-dry for two days at approximately 30º C.
- The settlement: during this stage, the salt is being spread all over the piece in a homogenous way, and the water slowly eliminates itself. This is done in rooms with a temperature between 3º and 6º C, with a relative humidity of 80% and 90%. The pieces of meat are left there from 35 to 45 days.
- The drying: this process is done in natural drying rooms, with windows carrying openings that can be adjusted so that the ventilation could be controlled and thus reaching the necessary conditions for the appropiate temperature and relative humidity. The drying of the piece keeps going on while the exudate, which is the propagation of the fat within the muscular fibres helps creating the jamon (ham) odour.
- The ageing: this phase is realized inside ham cellars, after classifying each and every piece according to its weight, its structure and its quality. The biochemical processes inside the cellars follow their course. The duration of the ageing in the slaughterhouses depends on the blood quantity present inside the meat piece.
- Characteristics: When the hams and the picnic shoulders finish their curation, they show some characteristics:
- Physical characteristics:
- They are long-shaped, slim, "V" cut and they have got hooves.
- The hams do not weigh less than 4,5 kg, and the picnic shoulders do not weigh less than 3,5 kg.
- Organoleptic characteristics:
- When cut, the ham presents a colour which ranges from pink to purple red, and we can also see the fat infiltrated within the muscular fibers.
- The oudour and flavour of the ham are very characteristic, its flavour is very tasteful and tender, a bit salty, but it can also be sweet too, and its aroma is very tasty.
- The texture is quite fibrous.
- The fat of the jamon tastes very well, is quite brilliant and of a colour between white and yellowish.
- It has got a 50 or 55% water content (on the surface and in depth).
- It has 5% sodium chloride, at the most.