Most porcine breeds are raised with one goal, to produce the maximum amount of meat. The Blackfoot pig from the Iberian Peninsula, however, has not undergone significant genetic changes over the last 500 years and is still today partly wild hog. It is an exclusive race because it has low body weight, a long lifespan and gives birth to small litters.
The Blackfoot pigs lives in spacious paddocks before they are let out to pasture on the “Dehesa”. Here each animal has a minimum of 5000 square meters to thrive on during the period from October to February when the acorns fall from the oaks. They have a healthy appetite and can eat up to 8 kilos of nuts and about 3 kilos of green grass, mushrooms and other aromatic plants every day. They walk up to 14 kilometers a day. Although exercise is very important to the quality of the meat, it slows the fattening process and makes it more expensive.
This breed is distinctive in its capacity to accumulate intramuscular fat rather than fat only around the muscles. This is clearly visible in the marble pattern characteristic of the Iberian ham. This fat retains the marvelous aromas that, together with the meat, melts in your mouth when you enjoy the thin, hand carved slices at the table.
The Blackfoot pig lives for 2 years and is let out to pasture twice between October and March. During the final grazing they grow from 90 kilos to approximately 150 kilos. This weight gain is the result of a special diet which is necessary because the Blackfoot pig is an «athletic» race. Each kilo they gain requires 12 kilos of acorns and 5 kilos of other plants. After slaughter, the artisanal cure of the ham lasts from 36 to 48 months. These two unique procedures are what make the product so valuable. The highest quality ham, 100% Iberico Bellota, has both genders of pure Iberian breed and can be hard to come by at times.
To achieve a more accessible ham, the Iberian pig is crossbred with other races, often with the “Duroc” that is well renowned and much used all over the world. Varieties of 75% and 50% of Blackfoot is obtained, the mother always being pure Iberian. These varieties might be fed only in paddocks; others are out on the «Dehesa» grazing free and eating acorns. This produces an excellent ham as well, but with a milder taste.
All in all, one might say that the Blackfoot is a lucky animal which lives quite well and comfortably in nature - which is also important for the food we eat.