Iberian Pig

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Iberian Pig

Cerdo Ibérico

A pure breed Iberian pig, or Ibérico de Raza Pura (IRP), is born only from 100% pure Iberian breed animals. There is thus a substantial difference between these animals and those of the normal Iberian breed, as this second can be cross-bred with the Duroc Jersey breed and has a developmental and reproductive period that is much faster. Pure breed Iberian pigs are large, stand tall and, in general, are gray with small ears and large shoulders, a wrinkled forehead, very little fur and large hooves that allow the animals to walk with agility among the mountainous areas. This indigenous species is found throughout southern Spain: 85% of the breed is found in Andalusia, while 12% is in Estremadura and the one percent in Castilla and Leon. Traditionally the role of the breeder is to look after the pigs from birth until slaughter in the montanera, the place where the pigs are free raised (and where they eat only acorns from October to February). While the distribution of these animals across the territory is adequate (each pig has between one and one and a half acres to itself) they not only do not compete with the ecosystem, but they are necessary for its very protection. Pure Iberian pigs are raised in family farms and, as such, the small-scale producers practice different forms of raising and processing than those used by commercial breeders. This means, for example, that when the sows give birth and during nursing the pigs are not caged, having instead at least four square meters of space and direct access to the fields. During the nursing period the mother receives an all natural diet; the minimum period of nursing must last between 40 and 60 days.
The pigs eat field grasses which are supplemented with natural food: during the winter they are given ground grains, acorns and medicinal herbs, while in the summer they eat the pumpkins grown in the gardens. Slaughter does not take place before the pigs are 18 months old, but it is better to wait 22 months, when the pigs has absorbed all of the nutrients from the acorns into its meat. These family farms have a median size of 40 to 70 acres, with an annual production of between 55 and 60 pigs. Historic data regarding these small farms have shown hardly any variation over the past 20 years. The historic production area of pure breed Iberian pigs is the same place as they are still raised, even though the number of animals today is much less than in the past. The fields, of which there are roughly 4 million acres, take up a large swath of the western and southwestern part of the Iberian peninsula. This is a unique ecosystem in Europe, with a rich and important environmental patrimony. The livelihood of the local population depends on the activities related to the extensive breeding of Iberian pigs, and in particular the pure breed. Today the fields are at risk due to their advanced age and the excessive pressure put on them by sheep and cattle breeding, which in contrast to pig raising receives public subsidies. Traditionally, over the centuries, the main product of these fields was pork, but many of them have been rapidly converted in order to host cattle and sheep. Today in Spain there are only 15 breeders of Iberian pure breed pigs: in total they possess between 800 and 1,000 animals. One of the reasons that these breeders can not compete on the market today is that the hybrid breeds of Iberian pigs are much more productive. A second, but still fundamental, reason is that the regulations allow very different products to be sold under the same name. Consequently, the label ‘Iberian’ stands for many products, as if all of them were pure Iberian, acorn raised pigs. The quality is not the same, but it is difficult for the consumer to tell the difference. The PDO (protected designation of origin) of the Iberian pure breed certifies and guarantees the quality and nutrition of the animal throughout the entirety of its existence, as well as the absence of any kind of GMOs in the animals’ diet. What’s more, this also certifies that the number of animals present in each family farm corresponds to the number of acorns gathered in a given year. These rules guarantee the reproduction of the breed, the health of the fields, and the quality of the product. But the Designation is difficult to obtain and calls for a significant dedication of time and energy on the part of the breeders. As such, the production of products made from Pure breed Iberian pigs continues to decrease, and the older breeders are leaving the profession without leaving their businesses to a new generation. Currently there are only 500 Iberian pure breed pigs raised and sold each year.

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Nominated by:Esperanza Camacho e Juan Vicente Delgado | Chef Toño Pérez, Atrio Restaurant, Relais & Châteaux