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Forest-Raised Ibérico Pork from Spain

We realized we hadn't tasted pork like this for a long, long time. Or maybe we had never had this experience before; perhaps it was a primordial memory from a time when pork meant something juicy, something complex and richly flavorful.

slices of iberico grilling pork on an olive wood boardThe occasion was a cookout at a house in Vista Hermosa, near El Puerto de Santa María. We had received samples of pasture-raised Ibérico pork from the Dehesa forests of southwestern Spain. The cuts sounded exotic: presa, pluma, secreto.

We had very high expectations, though we weren't exactly sure what we were in for. We could smell the difference before we even cut into the first piece - a rich, juicy aroma evocative of bacon or pancetta. The first bite of secreto was incredible, the pork almost melted in the mouth, with a tender satisfying bite. Our friends at Fermín said that women in Spain usually avoid this cut, because it has more fat than the other types. We wiped the delicious grease from our faces and couldn't see how anyone could pass it up!

But the biggest surprise was the beautiful variation in the cuts. Each cut offered a different experience as we sampled -- the pluma, a thin cut that you cook in a flash; the solomillo tenderloin with its delicate flavor and light color; the rarely offered secreto. The presa was most surprising, marbled and deep red, more like a filet mignon than any pork we had ever tried. We sliced it thinly and it didn't last long.

We ended the evening marveling at the flavor we'd been missing. Because this pork was from pasture-raised pigs and because the Ibérico breed had not had all the flavor bred out of it, the pork delivered a taste that we had all craved without really knowing it. We left the table excited and awed, impatient to introduce others to this jewel of Spanish cuisine.


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