The registered designations of origin are located in areas of natural oak development, whose protection and good health must be guaranteed by the breeder. Care for the environment is just as important as race and maturation in the production process.
These breeding areas are not only dedicated to Iberian pigs and are shared with cattle, sheep and sometimes horses. The only rule is that the pig has priority during the Montanera to feed on the bellota. The intelligent management of these mixed farms and their various constraints is one of the keys to success, both for the magnificent bull meat and the subtle Ibérico de Bellota ham.
Four appellations of origin exist for Iberico de Bellota ham, which correspond to the locations of the largest dehesas in Spain, with a high concentration of oaks but also with climatic variations that give particularities to each region and nuances of taste that amateurs recognize with time and experience. The designations do not impose any particular species among those mentioned above.
The appellation that today produces the most lberico ham in Bellota originates in the village of Guijuelo, in the south of the province of Salamanca, in the autonomous community of Castile and Leon, at an altitude of 1000 metres. The farms are spread over 77 municipalities as far as the border with Portugal. The continental climate and the proximity of the Sierra de Béjar, Francia and Gata provide a colder climate than in other breeding areas, which results in a slightly longer maturation period. Guijuelo ham can be defined as the most subtle and complex of the four appellations.
D.O. Dehesa of Extremadura
This is the largest production area in Spain: it contains the most oak varieties and allows a longer Montanera period than elsewhere. With the Sierra de Béjar and Francia to the north and the plains to the south that descend towards Andalusia, the climate variations are greater than elsewhere and allow a higher fattening requirement than others. A ham that is a compromise between the finesse of Guijuelo and the character of Huelva.
A small appellation, between 500 and 1000 metres above sea level, with a milder climate than elsewhere thanks to the influence of the nearby Atlantic and Mediterranean and therefore a more diversified vegetation (olive trees, palm trees, pines, chestnut trees), with a predominance of encina and alkornoque. The result is a ham with a powerful and distinguished taste and very long aromas.
D.O. Valle de los Pedroches
This is the most recent appellation, which saw its first hams arrive on the market in 2006. Only 25 villages benefit from the label. Located at an average altitude of 300 metres and mainly planted with encina, in very high density, the land gives these hams a powerful nutty taste.