Spain’s pig aristocracy emigrates to Texas
Two Spanish entrepreneurs become the first to bring animals to the United States for breeding
Jamón ibérico de bellota, one of Spain’s top delicacies, is made from free-range Ibérico pigs that graze on dehesas and feed on acorns. Until now, these pigs had been raised exclusively in the Iberian Peninsula.
Our civil servants are scared to put their signature to anything new
Acornseekers, Murga and Marsal’s US company, has a 75-acre ranch in Texas where acorns are plentiful. They also have two breeding agreements with local farmers who raise the pigs at their own expense in return for a share of the annual profit.
Now numbering 3,000, these expensive and time-consuming animals graze freely on acorns in the winter oak belt that stretches from Jacksonville, Florida, to California.
“Manolo, our technician, believes that the holm oaks were here before the Spanish came to America, but I prefer to think that we brought them with us,” jokes Marsal.
Getting Ibérico pigs to the US from Spain, alive or otherwise, has proved a long and complicated business. After years of struggling with red tape, Embutidos Fermín was the first company to manage the sale of cured bellota ham in the States in 2007.
Now Murga and Marsal have faced down Spanish bureaucracy – the main obstacle – to bring Americans the source of the product. “Our civil servants are scared to put their signature to anything new,” says Marsal.
Marsal also believes that the Spanish Ibérico industry brought pressure to bear on the authorities to stop Ibérico pigs leaving Spain. “It seems that some people feel we are robbing the country of a national treasure when our philosophy is the opposite; we want to export the best of our gastronomy like the French did with their wine in California’s Napa Valley,” says Marsal, who remembers his parents desperately trying to find a restaurant with a wine list in 1979 Miami.
“Less than 40 years later, Americans consume more wine than any other country in the world, and more Spanish wine than anywhere outside of Spain.”
Having raised the $2 million required to build a ham curing facility, Acornseekers hopes to be selling its first legs of ham in America by 2018 for an eye-watering $1,000 a piece – three times what they sell for in Spain.
However, Murga and Marsal are aware that they first have to educate the American palate and that profits may take some time to materialize. Meanwhile, they have been slaughtering Ibérico pigs to be sold as fresh cuts of pork, something Americans are more familiar with.
“It would be nice if one day they forgot about having turkey for Thanksgiving and put a leg of Ibérico in the oven instead,” says Marsal. “It could be their own Ibérico – Made in America – just the way they like it.”