Whether you know about ham or not, whether you like it or not, we are sure you’ve heard the expression Pata Negra (black hoof), which is a very common expression in Spain and has its origin in the world of ham. Without much thought, these words refer directly to the leg of the pig and, specifically, to the colour of the hoof of the animal. Below we explain where this expression comes from, when it is used and why we must stop using it as a synonym for quality in Iberian ham, generally speaking.
What color is a pig’s hoof?
Popular belief associates the black colour in the skin and hoof of pigs with quality. Yet, the reality is that Iberian pigs do not always have this dark grey colour on their limbs, there are other breeds belonging to what is known as the “Iberian trunk” which are more reddish, for example, and we also find white (not Iberian) pigs with black hoof. Thus, it is about time to forget this saying because not all Iberian pigs have black hoofs, nor black hoofs are exclusive to this breed. As for the similarity with the guarantee, we could even say that not even the fact that a piece is Iberian and actually has a black hoof will guarantee that the ham be good; let’s keep in mind first all the factors that come into play in the preparation of a ham or ham shoulder, the conscientious work of the ham expert, the stages of the curing process, etc..
Although it is currently a practice that is not carried out thanks to the controls and laws that protect the production of ham in Spain, for many years some traders dyed the hooves of their hams black because “if it is Pata Negra (black hoof) is of the best quality and is certainly good”. The price of an acorn-fed Iberian ham (Jamón Iberico de Bellota) would always be much higher than a ham of lower quality and without the regulations and knowledge we have today, the colour of the hoof was sufficient to ensure this.
Pata Negra Ham
In Enrique Tomás we avoid talking about the Pata Negra ham because we prefer to use terms that do indicate quality, such as the percentage of breed and the type of diet the pig has been fed on. However, current legislation indicates that the term “Pata Negra” may only be used to refer to 100% acorn-fed Iberian hams, i.e. those from pure-bred Iberian pigs which have been fed on acorns in the iberan pastureland during the Montanera season.
Remember then that on the label of the ham, you will find many adjectives, but that always, the most important thing will be the color of the identification bridle and the data you put on it:
- White bridle: Iberian de Cebo ham from pigs with 50 and 75% purity of the Iberian breed.
- Green bridle: Iberain Cebo de Campo ham from pigs with 50 and 75% purity of the Iberian breed.
- Red bridle: Acorn-fed ham (Bellota) from pigs with 50 and 75% purity in the Iberian breed.
- Black bridle: Acorn-fed ham (Bellota) from pigs with 100% purity in the Iberian breed.
As a curiosity, the expression “de pata negra” is still used in popular culture to refer to something true or genuine. But in other countries, such as Chile, the same expression is used to refer to the lover of a married woman.