USDA certifies Portuguese producer for Iberico ham sales in US

Photos: Daniel Azevedo
Photos: Daniel Azevedo

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified the Portuguese producer Rodrigo Duarte’s label Puro Alentejano Iberian Hog to produce and sell on the United States market.

The unique Alentejano pig breed grows in the Alentejo region in Portugal. 95% of them are processed into the world-famous jamón ibérico or Iberico ham in Spain. However, the Alentejo hog population is declining. There were 12,000 animals in 2012 but currently, there are no more than 5,000. With the USDA’s permission Duarte imported 10 Alentejo hogs (8 females and 2 males) purchased from the Portuguese government to the US in 2016. “This is a way to preserve and promote this breed outside its original region”, comments.

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Alentejano pig flies

The animals spent 90 days in quarantine at a Portuguese government facility in Vila Nova de São Bento in the Alentejo region, close to the Spanish border. Then, they were trucked some 180 kilometers to Lisbon. After that, this group started its transatlantic journey on September 16, and, finally, the hogs were transported 100 kilometers north to a quarantine facility in Beacon, NY, where they spent another 30 days.

Nowadays, the Don Rodrigo brand is the first slaughterhouse for Iberian pigs in the Americas, located in New Jersey, and counts around 3,000 animals.

Uno, dos, tres bellotas

The final Iberian pig products, such as Iberico ham and other cuts, have various requirements in terms of quality, beyond the breeds or location. The animals must be fed with particular feed to get different classifications. For example, the Iberico ham Pata Negra tres bellotas is made from animals fed with 100% bellota nuts. 2 bellotas are fed with 66% of bellota and other products, and 1 bellota is fed with 33%. In the case of Don Rodrigo´s pigs, they get fruits, American nuts, and feed.

“We have very good nuts and feed for our pigs here in the US, both free range or not. We could even import bellota nuts to conquer this kind of classification, as well”, says Duarte.

Market for Iberico ham

According to the consultancy firm Market Watch, the global market for Iberico ham is projected to grow with 7,2% per year between 2023 and 2030. In terms of sales revenue, the top 3 companies are the Spanish companies Cinco Jotas, Joselito, and Senorio de Montanera. These brands have a revenue of millions of euros each year.

According to Market Watch, the market for Iberico ham is a lucrative one, and the leading companies can help to drive growth and demand for this premium product all over the world.

According to Mr. Duarte, the Don Rodrigo brand is small now, but aims to increase its presence in the US. “We plan to reach other markets in the Americas in the future as well, such as Canada and Brazil.”

Daniel Azevedo Freelance journalist Brazil
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