Spanish Ham Sniffers

The Iberian pig originated from a rare endemic breed of Portugal and Spain, which originated from the Mediterranean wild boar.

A proper Iberian ham should smell slightly sweet, with woody and nutty notes from the acorns. Iberian is a type of ham from the Iberian pig, very appreciated in the cuisine of Spain and Portugal, and often considered as an article of haute cuisine and gastronomic luxury.

The company Cinco Jotas has been producing premium Iberian ham since 1879. They use caladors, ham sniffers to ensure that hams have reached optimum condition for sale.

The main characteristics that distinguish the Iberian hams in their quality derive from the purity of the breed of the animals, from the breeding in an extensive regime of freedom of the Iberian pig in wooded pastures where they can move widely and perform physical exercise,

of the food that follows the pork in the” montanera” period(the period between October and February in which pigs are free in the oak forests), and finally the curing of the ham, which usually extends between 24 and 48 months, needing more healing time the larger the size of the piece and the greater amount of acorns the pig has ingested.

The lead sniffer at Cinco Jotas is Manuel Vega Domínguez. The 58-year-old has been working as a calador since 1998, and he’s served the ham producer since 1989. He takes care of about 200 hams a day, each ham is smelled in 4 sections, so that is 800 sniffs. The ham sniffers will stick a sharp implement into the ham and then smell it.

If the aroma is too strong, that means the ham is drying up too much. And if it smells rotten, well, that’s no good either. The ham sniffers may reject a ham for other off-notes as well. Sometimes they detect notes of coffee, licorice, or toffee, none of which are fit for a premium Iberian ham. During the Christmas rush, they bring in 5 additional caladors. They all will need to smell about 800 hams a day, 3200 sniffs!

If you doubt yourself, you cannot do the work. If you doubt one [ham], you have to doubt all of them.

Manuel Vega Domínguez

A calador can’t afford to be sick. Domínguez eats six oranges every day and finishes every day with a hot mug of handpicked Pennyroyal tea to clear his sinuses. He once changed the type of shampoo he’d been using for years and that really confused his nose for a while.


Spain for Gourmets
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Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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