Ricardo Migueláñez. Agricultural Engineer
Hams and shoulders with the Dehesa de Extremadura PDO seal are produced on the dehesas in Cáceres and Badajoz provinces, home to a valuable ecosystem which provides the ideal habitat for, and has been preserved in large part by, the Ibérico pig.
The regulation of DO Dehesa de Extremadura was approved in 1990, and the DO was recognized by the European Union as a Protected Designation of Origin in 1996, providing a guarantee for the prestige and quality of Ibérico hams and shoulders (Ibérico, recebo, and campo de recebo) approved by the Regulatory Council. Heracio Narváez, Chairman of DO Dehesa de Extremadura, talks with Wiki Spanish Food about the quality seal's exports.
There are four Ibérico ham DOs in Spain. Where does Dehesa de Extremadura stand in terms of production and what sets it apart?
Since the beginning, our Regulatory Council's policy for Dehesa de Extremadura has been to certify top quality products, quantity being a secondary factor. I would highlight that 95% of our production is acorn-fed, with the result that the number of pigs we can fatten each year depends entirely on natural acorn production, and there are many factors which impact the montanera, i.e. the fattening period (weather, edaphic, geographic, and production conditions, among others), most of which are solely dependenton nature.
We currently have between 22,000 and 45,000 pigs on our dehesas, yielding 88,000 and 180,000 hams and shoulders for certification, to be sold by companies certified by the Council.
Audits and requirements are very stringent, in terms of dehesa inspection and company certification. Dehesa de Extremadura audits 100% of production. This has been a key aspect and, as a result, Dehesa de Extremadura ham is considered to be the best in the word, according to a growing consensus in the industry.
What percentage of total sales do PDO product exports account for?
Ibérico ham is very closely linked to our culture, with the result that consumption is primarily concentrated in Spain. However, with the opening of new markets and greater awareness about Spanish culture, which is highly valued around the world, exports have grown quickly and progressively in recent years.
Exports account for just 5% of total sales; however, a few years ago they accounted for less than 1%, and there are companies that allocate close to 20% of production for exports.
What are the main markets where these products are exported?
Within Europe, we mainly export to France, Portugal, Belgium and the UK; outside the EU, Japan and Mexico are the primary markets.
What are foreign ham consumers looking for?
Anyone who tries our product is immediately taken with its smooth texture and flavor. Foreigners are increasingly informed about the world of Ibérico pigs and the ham culture in Spain. Some countries, such as Japan, France, and the UK, are more receptive as they understand the complicated production process. However, there are other countries where, due to the type of business, i.e. based on the department store and discount formats, such as in Germany, sales are complicated because these products are not low cost items. As a result, they are generally sold in exclusive markets and delicatessens.
What problems do you face in exporting to other countries?
Entering new markets is never easy for any industry, as there's generally a lot of red tape and it's a costly process. This makes you analyze each situation and the investment in time and money required to enter those markets. There are no major problems in the EU; however, in China and the US, for example, the requirements and investments vis-à-vis slaughterhouses must have enough scale toguarantee a high volume of exports for it to be worth your while. In Central and South America and Eastern Europe, the main obstacles are bureaucracy and customs.
How do you ensure that all of your products are top quality?
The Dehesa de Extremadura's audit system requires that every pig must be weighed, identified and monitored prior to and during the montanera. Each ham and shoulder is identified when the pig reaches the slaughterhouse and before is goes to market, and the Council's label is placed on each product as verification.
What are your plans for the future in Spain and abroad?
We aim to continue to grow, attract new customers and enter new markets, both nationally and internationally, by maintaining the same quality policy that has been in place for more than 24 years. We will also continue to raise awareness about our products by attending fairs, conferences, presentations, and discussions in Spain and in other countries, and by advertising in the media and online...In short, insofar as our budget and our team allow, we aim to have a presence in every location and attend every event that we can.