Saturday, 27 July 2013

Three categories for jamón serrano to avoid consumer confusion

SPAIN One of Spain's two greatest exports (in our opinion, the other one being the siesta), jamón serrano, has been the subject of negotiation between the various autonomous regions with an interest in the subject, and various jamón producing organizations, known as sector ibérico ('Iberian sector', after the porcine breed used to produce it). The complex negotiations went on for some eight months, supervised by the central government's Ministry of Agriculture. Among the objectives was to protect the purity of the Iberian pig, to watch over production methods and proper labelling, all of which would avoid confusion among consumers.>>>While the new regulatory measures is yet to be approved by the Council of Ministers (Cabinet), it does establish three categories, depending on the pig feeding methods used: exclusively acorn-fed in the wild throughout its life, or at least fattened in the wild (dehesa) during its last three months (de bellota); a mixture of grass and acorn-fed in the wild, aas well as on pellet feed in-farm (cebo de campo); and fed only on pellets on the farm (de cebo).

The three categories are to be applied to pigs 100% Iberian, or to a cross that is a minimum of 50% genetic Iberian purity. The percentages must be clear on the label.

Until this becomes law, there were four categories with labelling that lead to confusion, and some serious cases of mis-labelling that have ended up in court.

Quality control and labelling
One of the industry's principal problems, for many years, is that, even when there were eight categories, quality controls were almost non-existent throughout the process from breeding to production to consumer purchasing.

The main reason for those problems is that the agencies with the power to certify and thus categorise the jamón were established and paid for by the producers, giving rise to innumerable shady deals.

Even the regulating councils set up to establish denominación de origen (D.O., similar to wine) were unable to put some order into the matter. So the regional authorities had to step in, particularly when the EU began to take an interest.

However, the regional authorities, who were the final arbiters, allowed all sorts of labelling irregularities, again because of a lack of control. As a result there was a splurge of labelling, in some cases with claims for categories that didn't even exist.

The new regulation is expected to include all present producers, which will cover 80% of the total. There is no news as to the remaining 20%, but an advertising campaign might be in the offing when the regulations become law, aimed at clearing up the labelling and make it easier for consumers to make their choice at the counter.

(See also How do you know which jamón to buy? of December 2011)

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