journey2First of all an admission… As our culinary correspondent had never visited Salamanca before, when Castro y González asked Home & Lifestyle if we would like to join an exclusive press trip to the premium ham producer’s main centre of operations in Castilla y León, the main lure was being able to check out the splendour of that venerable city. As it turned out, after a rail journey from Málaga on the AVE and a delayed three-hour trip by car from Madrid, we found ourselves detouring Salamanca and heading to Guijuelo – about 40 kilometres to the south – gazing despairingly at the gradually disappearing spires of the city’s iconic cathedrals. We were pacified with the promise that we would return for dinner that night but in the end the rather improvised nature of the visit precluded that and instead we dined at a nevertheless agreeable restaurant in Guijuelo, El Pernil. Salamanca will have to wait for another time.

Earlier, before adjourning to our hotel (the Entredos), to freshen up for dinner (ostensibly in Salamanca), Miguel González Blanco – whose great grandfather raised individual pigs for the local market and whose grandfather founded the Castro y González Iberian ham business in 1910, gave us a tour of the company’s main production facility. Surprisingly for a wealthy village that is home to 60 per cent of Spain’s “jamón ibérico”production – Guijuelo is quite unremarkable. With a population of around 5,000, the town has around 200 ham production factories with their “secaderos” (curing chambers), all of which creates a rather stark and underwhelming aesthetic in the village. The area’s real charm is out in the countryside, where Miguel took us the following morning. Along the way, he explained to Home & Lifestyle that a ham must be at least 50 per cent “ibérico” by law to receive that designation, although his company’s products are all either 75 or 100 cent Iberian bloodstock (most of the 50 per cent “Iberian” ham finds its way into supermarkets with plastic separators between the slices). The animals are born on a “mother” farm between Salamanca and Madrid then brought to Guijuelo at three months of age, where they remain – wandering free on a 700-hectare estate (no more than one pig per hectare) and feeding on acorns and home-milled grains – for between 12 and 15 months. They are then slaughtered “in accordance with strict animal welfare laws” and sent to the curing chambers.

In addition to catering for the Spanish market, 12 per cent of Castro & Jiménez’s production is sent overseas, from the UK (the company’s biggest European market outside Spain) to China, the US and South America.