Jabugo Route: learn about the origin of the best Iberian ham in the world

As we explained in our article “Gastronomy of Huelva: from the sea to the land“, Huelva is known for its gastronomic richness and variety of products from both the sea and the land. One of the products that arouses the most passions, not only in Spain but around the world, is the famous Jabugo P.D.O. cured ham (dopjabugo.es) from the mountains of Huelva.

Aracena and Picos de Aroche Natural Park

The Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche is a natural park made up of 31 municipalities in the province of Huelva whose dehesa pastures have been recognized as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. 

A territory that stands out, in addition to its ecological value, for the beauty of its landscape, the kindness and generosity of its inhabitants and, above all, one of its main signs of identity: Jabugo PDO cured ham.

Jabugo, the municipality that gives its name to the brand and therefore to the route, is located in the heart of the region. But in addition, the region has a wide variety of tourist accommodations and places where hiking is the order of the day.

Where to start the route

The Jabugo Route is one of the most popular tourist and gastronomic activities in Andalusia. This route allows visitors to approach the whole world of the Iberian pig. Knowing the pasture -its natural habitat-, its tasting both at the cellar and at the table, without skipping the curing of hams, hind legs and sausages in the cellars and dryers. 

Although its name may lead to confusion, the Jabugo Route is not a pre-established route with a beginning and an end. You can choose for yourself which itinerary to follow according to your tastes and interests. For example, there are municipalities that have different nature and adventure activities, cultural visits or gastronomic experiences. What we do consider almost obligatory is to try a good tapa of ham in each of the municipalities you visit. This simple gesture will add value to the route and at the same time will make you cry with emotion, since there is no product comparable in taste, texture and aroma to the authentic Jabugo ham.

If you want to focus on making a getaway around Jabugo cured ham and all that it entails, these are the plans that cannot be missed on your route.

Ham Museum in Aracena

Without a doubt, a visit to the Ham Museum in Aracena is a must on your itinerary. This Interpretation Center of the Iberian Pig has 7 rooms where visitors will learn about the breeding process, their life in the pasture, the feeding they follow, the traditional or industrial slaughter, the curing and preparation process and, of course, the maturation process in the cellars.

In this museum, in addition to learning very interesting details about the world of Iberian cured ham, you will learn about the 4 essential factors that identify POD Jabugo:

  • The purity of the breed, endemic to the Iberian Peninsula.
  • The ecosystem of the dehesa (meadows), essential in the breeding and feeding of the Iberian pig.
  • Free-range rearing.
  • The natural curing system: slow and with conditions of temperature and humidity controlled in a traditional way.
Dehesa - Ruta del Jabugo
Museo del jamón Aracena

The “montanera”: a visit to a pasture

The dehesa or meadow is the basis of pig breeding. Without it, there would be no Iberian ham. The dehesa is a traditional model of sustainable development and a perfect balance between man and nature, where the Iberian pig finds the perfect habitat to develop its best characteristics. 

The main protagonists of this habitat are the holm oaks, cork oaks and gall oaks. These trees are responsible for producing the essential food in the diet of the Iberian pig: the acorn.

Here this animal enjoys complete freedom where it exercises its muscles and feeds, in addition to acorns, on tubers, grass and fruits provided by the meadow.

The “montanera” season takes place between autumn and the end of winter, when the acorn ripens and falls to the ground. The acorn is responsible for providing the unsaturated fats that infiltrate the ham and turn the Iberian product into an exquisite and healthy delicacy. After two montaneras – that is, two years – it will have reached its ideal weight.

Visit to a ham dryer

Combining a specific breed, the Iberian pig, and a specific natural environment for its development, the dehesa, the missing factor is the good knowledge of the artisan who treats it, helped by the altitude and the microclimate that allows hams and hind legs to cure according to the rhythm of the seasons.

There is no point in having a star product if the final treatment is not adequate. The elaboration process consists of the quartering and the salting process.  

The salting process is based on placing the hams one on top of the other separated by salt in the salting chamber. They are kept there for one day per kilo of weight, at a temperature between 1¬ļ and 5¬ļ, and humidity of around 80 or 90%.¬†

The pieces are then washed to remove all traces of salt and will rest for 60 to 75 days in a cool, humid place so that the salt absorbed is distributed among the meat. 

The hams are hung in the drying sheds for between 3 and 7 months so that, as the name suggests, the humidity of each piece dries completely. At this point the famous “sweating” of the pieces takes place due to the summer heat, which is responsible for distributing the fat throughout the muscle masses.

After drying, the piece is aged in the cellars for a minimum period of 18 months. The master ham maker will say when it is ready for consumption and enjoyment in the process known as “cala” or “calado”. Just name it and it makes the taste buds start salivating.

There are more than thirty cellars in the Sierra de Huelva so it will not be difficult to find one to visit.

Cutting and tasting Jabugo ham

The opening of an Iberian ham requires extreme care since the cut is key to appreciate the quality of a good piece. We recommend that you attend one of the star activities of the route, a ham cutting workshop.

The ham cutters know the anatomy of the ham to perfection, this, together with their skill, experience and the quality of their knives and tools, make each cut an unforgettable bite.

Corte jamón serrano

As we said, the route of the Jabugo does not have a closed itinerary, it is your tastes and interests that will guide you to one town or another. From AMA Residences we encourage you to enter the world of one of the star products of the gastronomy of Huelva and to discover the treasures that the Sierra Huelva hides honoring the origin, the environment, the tradition and the time it takes to obtain such an exclusive product as Jabugo P.D.O. ham.