Surrounding Aracena is a scattering of attractive but economically depressed villages, most of them dependent on the jamón industry and its curing factory at Jabugo. Jamón serrano (mountain ham) is a tapa or bocadillo standard throughout Spain, and some of the best, jamón de bellota (acorn-fed ham), comes from the Sierra de Aracena, where herds of sleek black pigs grazing beneath oak trees are a constant feature. In October, the acorns drop and the pigs, waiting patiently below, gorge themselves, become fat and are promptly whisked off to be slaughtered then cured in the dry mountain air. The meat of these black pigs is exceptionally fatty when eaten as pork but the same fat that marbles the meat adds to the tenderness during the curing process. This entails first of all covering the hams in coarse rock or sea salt to “sweat”, after which they are removed to cool cellars to mature for up to two years. Jamón serrano from mass-produced white pigs is matured for only a few weeks, hence the incomparable difference in taste. At Jabugo the best of the best is then further graded from one to five jotas (the letter “J” for Jabugo) depending on its quality. A whole leg of cinco jotas jamón will set you back anything from €250 to €350. The turismo can provide details of where to sample and buy.

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