Spanish pigs touch down in Georgia, birthing a new ham

For centuries, a coveted type of ham — jamón ibérico de bellota — has been produced from a special breed of pigs in Spain. But with a globalized demand for the ham, the Iberian pigs have now been transplanted to Georgia, where Will Harris of White Oak Pastures is aiming to produce an American version of the iconic food, writes Maryn McKenna in FERN’s latest story, produced with Eater.

“Jamón ibérico de bellota, the highest grade of Spanish ham — from pigs who spend the last months of their lives eating bellotas, or acorns — is garnet-dark and sweet, streaked with glossy fat that becomes translucent and begins to melt as soon as it makes contact with the air,” McKenna writes. The challenge, though, has been transplanting the hogs from arid Spain to humid Georgia, and coming up with feed that would mimic the nutrients the pigs have historically consumed. The answer was found in a mix of Georgia peanuts and pecans that the animals feed on at the farm.

Though he’s sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into the venture, it will still be awhile before the hams — now curing in Iowa — make it to market. “It would be disingenuous to say, ‘This is Iberian ham,’ and lead people to believe I imported it from Spain,” Harris says. “But I think it’s quite acceptable to say, ‘This is raised in Georgia, and we substituted peanuts and pecans for acorns, and we think it’s just as good. Or better.’ ” It’s a story of food migration as old as agriculture itself.