Without being too bold, ‘Pata Negra’ is surely one of the few ‘must-try delicacies’ that we have on this earth. Pata Negra isn’t simply ham. It is a carefully cultivated artisanal delight which has as much in tradition, history and reverence as it has bold, nuanced flavours.
So, let us get into it.
What Does ‘Pata Negra’ Mean?
The translation of Pata Negra is easy: ‘Black Hoof’. What the phrase means is something more complex.
The term on the surface is a nod to the pig that is used to produce the Jamon, the black Iberian pig. This breed is the key to why the pork products from the Iberian peninsular are so spectacular. The pig can be identified by its strong body, dark skin and hoof that has a black appearance. This hoof has become the symbol for Iberico Jamon.
Many Spanish people refer to all Jamon as ‘Pata Negra’ because when the meat is hug, it is identified by the black hoof (and not white)
There are others who say that the term ‘Pata Negra’ also relates to the ‘Black Label’ Jamon which is the highest standard that can be given to Jamon. There are many classifications of Jamon: white label, green label, red label and black. Black is the most expensive, exclusive, and many say the tastiest of all of the classifications.
The very, very highest quality is donned with its Pata Negra status.
What Makes Jamon ‘Pata Negra’?
The diet and lifestyle of the pig is what is key here. The pigs feed over miles, and miles of forest lands where they feed on acorns. The acorn is what gives the Jamon its rich, nutty, silky flavour and creates all the nuance.
Although the pigs all eat together, there are some pigs who do not eat enough of the Acorns (they are smaller and can’t fight off the bigger pigs), or the farmer has supplemented their diet with grain. This affects the chemical compounds within the meat and affects its flavour after the cure.
To be true Pata Negra the pig must be 100% Bred Iberian Black Pig and fed a sole diet of acorns. Not only that, each piece is tested to ensure that it meets the extremely high standard of the classification board. They board inspect the piece and test the fats in a lab to make sure that the pig had eaten enough acorns to warrant the correct specification.
On the occasion that the Jamon falls even slightly below this standard they become classified as ‘Green Label’ or more locally, ‘Red Label’ (Black label ready, just not tested by the classification board).
The cost of the process and exclusivity of the meat are the reasons behind Jamons high price.
Where can you buy real Pata Negra in the UK
Black Label Pata Negra is hard to come by. Real, correctly classified meat is expensive and there are only a few importers who are able to bring Black Label Jamon into the UK. It is possible to purchase the Jamon online, or through a local Spanish deli.
The way to identify whether the jamon is the real deal is to smell the Jamon, look at the fat and check for classification within the muscle tissue. The meat should smell sweet and nutty, the fat oily, yellow and soft, and the mean should be speckled with hard white diamonds.