Our Small baguette with acorn-fed Iberian cured ham is considered the best sandwich in the world. It’s a simple recipe that we prepare with homemade bread which is spread with tomato and covered with Ibérico shoulder ham; a choice ingredient unique in the world, which we select by hand, piece by piece, to ensure the magnificent flavour of the sandwich.
The figures bear out the result: at Viena we consume 3% of the Jabugo acorn-fed Ibérico shoulder hams sold in the world. We believe in the saying we are what we eat, and that’s why we set out to offer recipes with top quality ingredients. While most others use cebo or recebo hams from pigs that are fed acorns and grain or only grain, we follow a procedure that lasts more than two years and that we initiate with a trip to Jabugo, where we select the raw shoulders. During the following two years we go to Jabugo regularly to comprehensively monitor the entire process and ensure the maximum quality of the pieces.
At Viena we consume 3% of the Jabugo acorn-fed Ibérico shoulder hams sold in the world.
Our journey begins in Jabugo, a small town on the Sierra de Aracena in Huelva Province, known worldwide for its Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) and its own micro-climate. The Iberian breed of pigs roam the meadows that abound in holm oak, cork oak and oak trees; an image much distanced from the typical vision of Andalusia as all beaches and endless plains.
Montanera or free-range mast-feeding
Iberian pigs wander free until mid-October, when the montanera or free-range mast-feeding period begins. This fattening period lasts until approximately mid-February and is when the pigs feed on acorns, natural grasses and aromatic herbs until they reach the regulation weight. It’s not a fixed period, as it depends a lot on rainfall and the quantity of grass that has grown and acorns that have been produced by the trees.
To begin mast-feeding the pigs must have a minimum weight of 90kg and can only finish when their weight passes 160kg. For a pig to gain 1kg it has to eat approximately 12kg of acorns and 5kg of herbs and roots. By law, each pig must have an available area of land almost equal to that of a football stadium. Running around the dehesa meadows from one end to the other looking for food means the pig covers some 14km a day. As a result, the animal gains muscle mass that enables it to bear the weight it puts on over these months.
These requirements, laid down by the Jabugo PDO, mean that the supply of product is very limited, since no matter how many more pigs there may be, there’s simply not enough dehesa meadowland to feed them on. What’s more, the weather also plays its part in conditioning the length of the montanera.
Our Iberian shoulder hams
At Viena we select all our shoulder hams manually, one by one, before they enter the cellar. In this way we ensure we have the best shoulders and that, properly cured, we obtain a top-quality ingredient for our recipes.
We only choose Ibérico shoulders, not hams (rear legs). The shoulders have a rounder, narrower shape and, above all, are more fatty (the hams have more lean meat). When the shoulder dries, the fat penetrates throughout the entire piece making it more tasty. As acorns are rich in oleic acids, this pork fat is key to achieving a shoulder with a magnificent flavour.
We manually select each shoulder to ensure we have the best and to guarantee an ingredient with unrivalled quality.
How is an Ibérico shoulder dried?
Profiling: once the shoulders (front legs) have been chosen they must be profiled. In the case of Viena, we cut off excess fat, leaving only the amount necessary for proper curing. This step is essential to ensure the piece doesn’t rot and cures correctly.
Salting: we cover the shoulders with salt with very high humidity to encourage their drying and conservation. We keep this salt year after year to conserve its bouquet, which will then be infused into the following pieces. For every kilo the shoulder weighs, we leave it one day in salt.
Drying: we hang the pieces manually in a natural dryer, where they spend what’s known as the first summer. The fat gradually melts, impregnating the muscular mass of the piece. We control the temperature in the drying room so that it doesn’t exceed 35ºC, and the humidity is maintained at between 60% and 75%. We use natural currents of air for this procedure, simply opening or closing the windows.
In this phase, the maestro jamonero is present 24 hours a day, monitoring and controlling the temperature, humidity and air currents, as any imbalance could be highly prejudicial for the shoulder. This is the most delicate stage of the process, and lasts from six to nine months, depending on the weight of the piece.
Cellar: we then hang the shoulders, one by one, in natural cellars, where they develop their colour, texture, flavour and aroma (organoleptic attributes). We monitor and control the temperature at 14ºC to 18ºC, and the humidity between 60% and 70%. Our shoulders spend no less than 12 months in this environment.
The cellars are very humid spaces where microorganisms such as fungi proliferate. These may have a variety of colour shades, depending on the light quality and location of the cellar; they help conserve and enrich the organoleptic characteristics of the product.
Smell test: when the shoulders leave the cellar we submit them, one by one, to the calado to confirm their organoleptic qualities are at their best. Calado means puncturing the piece with a wooden or bone instrument to enable its aroma to be smelled. If the shoulder has not been cured properly, the smell will give it away.
"The process is key to acquiring the required character, bouquet and curing."
Thanks to the traditional process we follow, our Small baguette with acorn-fed Iberian cured ham is one of Viena’s most well-known and appreciated products, being recognised by the food critic Mark Bittman as “the best Sandwich in the world”.