The incorporation of new technologies and sanitary controls has elevated the quality of the hams, although experience and the know-how of our master ham makers is still of absolute essence, as they are the heirs to a tradition that has been passed on from one generation to the next during hundreds of years.
Three basic factors come together in the production process of a César Nieto Martin Ham:
- The legacy of an artisan tradition.
- The perfect climate provided by a privileged enclave such as Güijuelo (which receives the breeze from the Béjar and Gredos Sierras).
- And the most vanguard of technical innovations to improve, even more if possible, the unmistakable quality of our hams.
Once the very best animals have been selected under the strict personal supervision of the Nieto family, we then proceed with slaughtering and quartering, which is when the Ham’s long journey until it reaches your tables gets underway.
All the hams are covered in sea salt during the salting process, as this favours dehydration and conservation of the pieces. During this process, which is perhaps the most painstaking for our personnel, the hams remain in curing halls, completely covered in salt at controlled temperatures standing between 0 and 5º C and at a relative humidity of between 70% and 90%.
The aim behind this step is to incorporate sea salt to the muscular mass of the ham, as this favours dehydration of the pig’s extremities and perfect conservation of the same. During this period the salt also contributes in the development of the colour and typical aromas of cured products.
The salting period varies in accordance to the weight and degree of purity of the piece. Just as an idea we can underline that a Ham is normally left in these cellars for one day per kilo of weight. At about the mid-point of the curing period the pieces are turned over, hence achieving even distribution of the salt. This is a very important stage, as the correct point of salt in the Ham will depend precisely on this and it is always a difficult point to attain, however, we can certainly say that during our lengthy trajectory of many years this is something that we have achieved quite satisfactorily.
Once the salting period has reached its end, the pieces are washed and rinsed in warm water to eliminate all the salt that has adhered. Once washing has finished, moulding and profiling of the pieces is proceeded with.
Finally, the hams are hung in a cellar where the settling period starts, which is when the perfect saline balance is achieved. During this stage the humidity is slowly eliminated in order to ensure correct diffusion of the salt throughout the muscle mass of the hams and shoulder hams. This stage (settling), also takes place under controlled temperatures standing between 4º C and 6º C and at a relative humidity of 80% to 90%. The duration of the saline balance process is about 35 to 45 days, always depending on the specific ham itself.
In this case we can talk about 2 well defined stages:
- Natural drying halls.
- Sweating of the pieces.
During this stage the hams are transferred to natural drying halls, hence it will no longer pass through any type of artificial drying shed and drying takes place in a natural way, with the entire process duly controlled by our master charcutiers. The hams are hung to dry in these natural drying halls, which are all fitted with windows and where they are usually kept in semidarkness, counting with regulated aperture of windows that allows us to control ventilation and the perfect humidity and temperature conditions.
This stage lasts approximately between 12 and 14 months. During this process what is known as “sweating of the pieces” takes places. The fundamental part of this process is that the temperature of the hams gradually increases, very slowly, as spring and summer approach, always controlling opening of the windows in manual fashion. Exudation of the hams is a period in which the aromas of the ham start to flourish and it is also the moment when all the properties that this “César Nieto” ham will have are actually defined.
Following the drying period all that remains is classifying of the hams per weight, quality and shape, and “embodegar” (passing the hams over to natural curing cellars), which takes place in the cellars that César Nieto has in Guijuelo. This is where the hams finish off their maturing process, in a unique environment, as most of the cellars date back to the time of our forebears and they have been kept up under the special philosophy that time has no meaning when the idea is to produce a fine Ibérico Ham.
In these cellars the temperatures vary between 15ºC and 20ºC, with relative humidity standing between 60-80%. The ham still has to undergo important changes in as far as enzymatic and biochemical levels are concerned, as these will be paramount in contributing to its texture and in boosting its other qualities (flavour, colour and aroma), until the quality that the Nieto family gives to all its products is finally reached.
Finally and not less important, before the hams are to leave on their way to the homes of all of Spain, is the “Cala” (testing) of the Ham. This procedure involves the introduction of a sort of needle, normally a cow shinbone, into the elbow of the Ham. Those in charge of this final evaluation of the Ham are persons with a tremendous highly discriminatory olfactory capacity, as in their hands lies the responsibility behind the hard work of many years.