Montánchez Capital of the cured ham of Extremadura

Montánchez is located in the southernmost point of the province of Cáceres. The first records of this municipality date back to 1095, during the Muslim invasion and after the Reconquest it was declared a Town with a territory comprising of what are today 14 municipalities, making up the Sierra de Montánchez.

It is located alongside a Roman castle that still stands and that is one of its main distinguishing features. However, one of the village’s main symbols of identity is its cured ham. Without a doubt this product automatically springs to mind when talking about Montánchez, which is considered as the «capital of cured ham of Extremadura».

Ham and Montánchez are therefore two terms that are closely connected, and rightly so, taking into account that the best-known cured hams protected by the Dehesa de Extremadura Designation of Origin, which brings together hams and shoulders from 85 municipalities in the region (both in the province of Cáceres and that of Badajoz), are those of Montánchez.

History and interesting facts.

Montánchez and ham are two terms which are closely connected, and have been since ancient times, according to age-old documents. Pure acorn-fed Iberian ham therefore stands out in the cuisine of Montánchez, and is of renowned and excellent quality.

Hearing the name of Montánchez means automatically conjuring up the smell of a good cured ham. Montánchez ham is of such a high quality that Charles V himself could not resist the pleasure of the local ham, and the emperor was a huge fan of enjoying it daily, according to stories by several writers, such as the writer and traveller Germond de Lavigne. According to his work «Itinerario por España» (Route through Spain), he affirmed that the emperor Charles V ate this ham as part of his daily diet.

Furthermore, from ancient times, the Iberian pig, from which the ham of Montánchez derives, has been part of the landscape of Extremadura. On the dehesa (pastureland) of Extremadura, the Romans were expert stockbreeders and they were also experts in curing the legs. These traditions have been preserved throughout history, helping to conserve and improve a breed of pig that is an authentic genetic treasure and that is perfectly adapted to the ecosystem of the Dehesa of Extremadura. In the case of the dehesas of Cácares, pig farming production was included in the Charters of Montánchez, which date back to 1236, in which the existence of dehesas specifically devoted to acorn production were recorded.

Reasons behind this special ham.

There are several clear reasons why the hams of Montánchez are unique and unparalleled: the area’s climate, the special way the animals from which they derive are bred and the way they are made.

They are unique because they derive from pigs bred exclusively in Extremadura. These animals are perfectly adapted to the ecosystem of the Dehesa and, from a young age, their diet is based on aliments found there: acorns, stubble, grass, etc. This gives the hams their unique taste, smell and texture. Interestingly enough, with regards to pig breeding, legend has it that the pigs of Montánchez owe their unique flavour to a diet of reptiles, which they eat in the final days before they are slaughtered. Reptiles such as viper which are abundant in the area.

Beyond the myths and legends, it is certainly true that these animals receive special care and attention, from birth until their products are fit for consumption.

And they are unique hams, due to their traditional and meticulous production. This age-old production method is thanks to a well-established cultural background, which has been passed down from generation to generation, therefore maintaining the know-how of the pig farmers of Montánchez.

Meticulous and careful production.

The first step in the production of the hams of Montánchez, after slaughtering and cutting the pig, is to bleed the ham, followed by salting. This process entails placing the hams and legs in the salting area where, from the very beginning, pieces are carefully selected and looked after, and each one is treated individually so that they each have the correct amount of salt. During the curing process the pieces undergo personalised treatment from the offset and, before salting, they are weighed individually to ensure that they each receive the necessary amount.

After salting, the hams are kept in natural rooms where the pieces undergo the sweating process naturally and manually, without any type of mechanical or chemical treatment. They are kept in these rooms throughout the spring and summer, and in autumn they are moved to the cellars, where they undergo the final and longest process, that of maturation, which lasts between 18 and 22 months. During this final process, with time, silence and darkness in the cellar, the pieces achieve their distinctive taste and succulence: the final bouquet.

Hams with designation of origin.

Without a doubt, the hams of Montánchez are the best-known of all of those included under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Dehesa of Extremadura.

The regulations of this PDO were finalised in 1990, and as a special characteristic they state that the pigs must be bred exclusively in Extremadura, so the PDO does not accept animals from other locations.

The PDO Dehesa de Extremadura brings together more than one hundred industries, which take advantage of the natural quality of one of the best-preserved landscapes in Spain, with almost one million hectares of dehesa, and it only includes the stretch of dehesas located between Cáceres and Badajoz. Production takes place in traditional industries located between the regions of Sierra de Montánchez, Sierra de San Pedro, Cáceres-Gredos Sur, Ibor-Villuercas and the mountain ranges to the southwest of Badajoz.

But Montánchez is not only notable for its ham, but also for the rest of products deriving from the Iberian pig.

If we visit Montánchez, we will also be able to enjoy its extra virgin olive oil, originating from century-old olive trees, cultivated on terraces, where mechanisation is an impossible task, giving the final product unique characteristics.

Finally, there is nothing better than sitting down and trying these delicacies accompanied by a good Montánchez wine.