Among the noblest animals that find their way to the world’s most refined menus, you’ll find the Spanish Iberian pig. This traditional breed goes back for centuries, and it’s prized for its healthy appetite; these beauties love to eat!
What you get is a chubby animal with the most astounding intramuscular fat, or marbling, which becomes some of the most expensive hams and cuts of pork in the world. Of course, in the hands of authentic artisans.
Only a skilled butcher can cut down a premium Iberico carcass into over a dozen delectable cuts, but it’s up to us to know about them and choose them for distinct recipes. Here’s all you need to know about the Iberian pig and its most famous cuts of meat. From cheeks to tail.
- Carrillera (Cheeks)
Called carrilleras or carrilladas — they’re the pig’s cheek muscle and cooked right; it’s delicious!
As you might imagine, Iberico pigs use this muscle a lot, especially when they’re treated with the famous acorn diet. The muscle’s hard work makes it a tough cut, making it ideal for slow-braising for long hours to achieve authentic fork-tender perfection.
Cooked with wine or stewed with tomato-based sauces, there are many ways of making the most out of the juicy carrilleras. They’re the very definition of comfort food.
2. Papada (Jowl)
Italians call this cut guanciale, which is similar to bacon but fattier.
The Iberian pig jowls are located on the neck of the pig, under its face. It is a very tender and juicy piece, even more so than pork belly.
Like bacon, is made up of skin, meat, and layers of fat that infiltrate the muscle, creating a white marbling that provides it with an exceptional texture and flavor.
The weight of a piece of papada can vary between approximately 1 and 1.5 kilograms and it’s great for grilling on barbecues.
3. Cabecero (Shoulder Collar)
This lean cut comes from the lower neck, and it divides the loin from the over-shoulder or presa. Usually with a lovely marbling but never overly fatty, the cabecero shares similarities with the lean loin and you can easily substitute them in a recipe. However, the shoulder collar is a bit fattier.
When fresh, it’s not unusual for cooks to grind the cabecero for a premium quality ground meat, but the cut is also salted and dry-cured for an authentic treat. Although Iberico loin is considered amongst the noblest dry-cured meats in the Spanish repertoire, connoisseurs might prefer the shoulder collar for its fattier and more unctuous taste.
4. Presa (Over-Shoulder)
The presa and the pluma are two different cuts of meat, but they’re similar in size. The presa is sometimes known as the pork’s caviar for its exclusivity — it’s hidden between the cabecero or shoulder collar and the shoulder itself. The thick-cut is insanely juicy, and it’s best enjoyed when grilled at high heat.
5. Paleta (Shoulder)
This one, you surely know. The paleta ibérica is amongst the country’s acclaimed dry-cured specialties, and it’s on the same level as the famous jamón. But, of course, the animal’s front legs are shorter than the back legs, so the paleta is smaller than the jamón — it’s just as tasty, though!
Recognized as one of the tastiest dry-cured hams in the world; the Iberico paleta has a lovely fat cap and an excellent marbling that becomes the most gorgeous strips of crimson-hued ham. The paleta is also often less expensive than jamón, so it’s a great buy!
6. Lagarto (Rib-Loin Strip)
Lagarto means lizard or alligator, but this is no exotic meat, but a thin, elongated strip of lean meat found between the pork’s ribs and the loin — basically between the spine and the back.
This lovely strip of meat is ideal for stir-fries and sautéed dishes, as it cooks fast and always results in tender, juicy meat; it’s a grilling favorite, too! And if coming from an acorn-fed Iberian pork, the reptilian-named pork cut is heavenly. Marinate lagarto for the best results and be prepared for a meaty treat! This lesser-known cut is a favorite amongst those in the know.
7. Pluma (Lower Loin)
The pluma lies in front of the loin, just above the shoulder blade. Its name means feather, and it’s because these cuts (there are two in each animal) are long and thin, just like feathers.
Just sprinkle this cut with salt and cook it briefly on the grill. Or use it to prepare our mouth-watering Boletus, Foie and Secreto Ibérico Paella