• 2020.11.25
  • Dry-Cured Ham Postscript
With the arrival of a second wave of COVID-19 infections, a declaration issued across the whole of Spain on October 25, 2020 extended the state of emergency all the way to midnight on May 9, 2021. Spain is facing a terrible situation with self-isolation and a prohibition on going out, and there are concerns here about the further spread of infection especially with the series of occasions when people would be coming together from now on, starting with Halloween, then Christmas, and New Year.

It’s against that background that, as a way of trying to relieve even a little the stress from being confined, or at least as a petit luxury, and seeing as I live in Spain, I tried ordering some of the world's most expensive dry-cured ham as verified by Guinness, which I told you about the other day, direct from the producer, the Sierra Mayor Jabugo S.A.U. company.
The webpage for ordering: https://sierramayorjabugo.com/cart
The company name includes the name of the village of Jabugo, famed for production of dry-cured ham and now renowned in Japan, but it appears that the ham is actually made in Corteconcepción village, about 30 km east of Jabugo.

The company's website says they only sell whole legs of the class of the five-year-old dry-cured ham verified by Guinness. They have three types of leg, depending on the weight: 6.50 to 7.00 kg, which usually sells for 590.82 euros, but with their current promotion is available at a 15% discount for 502.20 euros. The largest is 8.00 to 8.50 kg, which is available at the 15% discount for 609.80 euros, or in Japanese yen, 74,395 yen calculated at a conversion rate of 122 yen per euro, so compared to the 1,429,000 yen verified by Guinness in Japan, if the weight is about the same, you can buy it at about one 19th the price.

World's most expensive ham as verified by Guinness: The five-year-old Bellota 100% Ibérico Ham Class. (Sierra Mayor website)

Unfortunately, the class of the five-year-old dry-cured ham verified by Guinness is only sold by the whole leg, which is not an amount that could be readily consumed by two people in early old age, and in this day and age, you would be reluctant to buy it jointly with someone you know, so this time I bought a packet of three-year-old sliced ham made by the same producer. Considering the shipping cost and so on, I ended up buying four products made from 100% Ibérico pork raised on acorns (bellota).

(1) Bellota 100% Ibérico Ham (hind leg) Slices: 11.23 euros (1,370 yen) for 100 g
(2) Bellota 100% Ibérico Paleta (foreleg) Slices: 8.59 euros (1,048 yen) for 100 g
(3) Bellota 100% Ibérico Lomo (aged loin) Slices: 5.41 euros (660 yen) for 100 g
(4) Bellota 100% Ibérico Chorizo (sausage): 9.23 euros (1,126 yen) for 300g
The total was 47.57 euros (5,803 yen), including shipping and tax.

An assortment of Bellota 100% Ibérico pork products.

Crucially, the taste is of course unlike the ordinary ham you eat every day. It is exquisite, with excellent flavor and taste, rich nourishment (?), melt-in-the-mouth texture, very slightly sweet, and superbly balanced salt. Be that as it may, we tend to live frugally, so for us, it's the sort of special food that you get fired up about and eat as a kind of special reward for yourself. If it were the higher ranked five-year-old dry-cured ham class verified by Guinness, that would really be gourmet heaven.

By the way, in 2014 the Spanish government set out new quality standards for raw pork, dry-cured ham (hind leg), paleta (foreleg), and lomo (aged loin) from Ibérico pigs, called R.D. (royal decree) 4/2014.
Official bulletin: https://www.boe.es/boe/dias/2014/01/11/pdfs/BOE-A-2014-318.pdf

A new labeling system was introduced for dry-cured ham (hind leg) and paleta (foreleg) under that decree. The standards are divided into four categories according to combinations of different growing environments (feed) and the purity of the Ibérico pigs’ blood, and use black, red, green, or white color tags (labels).

Actual tags.

Photo from the Interprofessional Association of the Iberian Pig (ASICI) website https://www.iberico.com/ These tags are called "precinto" in Spanish, which means “seal” and are evidence of assurance of the quality of the Ibérico ham and Ibérico paleta and are always fixed to the shank of the ham leg. The organization that issues these tags is ASICI.

Black: De Bellota 100% Ibérico Blood purity (1) & growing environment (feed) A
Red: De Bellota Ibérico Blood purity (2) & growing environment (feed) A
Green: De Cebo de Campo Ibérico Blood purity (1) or (2) & growing environment (feed) B
White: De Cebo Ibérico Blood purity (1) or (2) & growing environment (feed) C
“Campo” is “field” and “cebo” is “feed.”

About blood purity
(1) 100% Ibérico variety: Both mother and father pigs are 100% Ibérico.
(2) 75% Ibérico variety: The mother is 100% Ibérico and the father is mixed with another variety, or,
50% Ibérico variety: The mother is 100% Ibérico and the father is another variety.

Growing environment including feed
A. Bellota: Pasturing in a secondary natural environment called “dehesa” (pasture) that is rich in acorns for six months before slaughter.
B. Cebo de Campo: Pasturing in dehesa while also providing natural grains, grasses, and blended feed, with or without acorns.
C. Cebo: Growing in a pig farm with blended feed.

A black tag is attached to the shank of the Guinness verified ham in photo 1.

This is what appears on tags.

Black class, red class, green class, and white class labels and brand bands must show the blood purity (100%, 75%, or 50%). Because apart from red class hams 100% Ibérico variety may be used even for green and white class hams from pigs grown using blended feed, it seems black class is not necessarily the only 100% Ibérico ham.

An example of a label and brand band used for both Ibérico ham and Ibérico paleta.

 While I’m at it, there have been reports in Japan that the highest rank of the Guinness verified dry-cured ham is Real Bellota, in regard to the particular feature of growing with acorns, but in the Spanish royal decree R.D. 4/2014, which I mentioned before, there is no standard that further divides the top rank black class (De Bellota 100% Ibérico) into higher and lower ranks, and of course there is no rank higher than it. In the first place, there is no such name as “real bellota” in the Spanish standard. This category with the ® mark attached is probably a brand name that has been registered as a trademark in Japan with the adjective “real” (real, royal) added to bellota (acorns) under an agreement with the producer, but this is something different to the ratings stipulated by law in Spain.

And while I’m still at it, special select dry-cured ham has been called "pata negra" (black leg/hoof) in Spain since olden times. This is probably owing to the fact that the Ibérico variety includes mostly black pigs, and their ham is especially delicious. The term pata negra is directly connected with the image of high-quality ham in Spaniards’ minds, so under the revised standards, the use of the name pata negra is permitted only for black class De Bellota 100% Ibérico products.

As I mentioned in the previous post, not all Ibérico pigs are necessarily black pigs with black hoofs. While some are the Manchado de Jabugo variety of Ibérico pigs, which are brown with spots, there are also Rubio Andaluz/Dorado Gaditano Ibérico pigs, which have red hair.

Manchado de Jabugo, a spotted variety of Ibérico pig

Rubio Andaluz/Dorado Gaditano, a red-haired Ibérico pig variety

Photos from Spain's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPA) website

Well, this post is half self-glorifying brag, isn't it? I started on the topic of the 1.4 million yen price for one leg of ham and ended up talking about the finer details of some very modest prices. I hope you may enjoy this post as delusions of a person living in self-isolation.


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

View a list of Susumu Yamada's

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