When the acorns stop falling, pigs start dying. And thus begins our tale.

Winter is the season when pigs die in Spain. Whether a humble family-owned hog or a pampered specimen of upstanding provenance, pigs are fattened, slaughtered and fabricated as soon as the cold takes hold of the Iberian peninsula.

The pigs in this picture here fall decidedly into the second camp. These are the world’s most famous pigs, the prized black-hoofed hogs of Iberia, the bodies behind Spain’s most prized porcine creation, jamón ibérico de bellota. What makes these pigs so special, aside from 3,000 years of exceptional rearing, is their diet: in the final months of their lives, they roam the hills of Salamanca and Andalusia gorging on fallen acorns, the key to the rivers of sweet fat that permeate a slice of great Spanish ham.

Don’t let any Italian tell you otherwise: Next to jamón de bellota, prosciutto tastes like an Oscar Mayer cold cut. One of best parts about calling Barcelona home is the fact that in every bar, market, and home you enter, a ham is there to greet you. It’s matanza season here in Spain, and in honor of the county’s single greatest contribution to mankind (leagues ahead of Cervantes, Picasso, and New World discovery), I’ll be posting a series of shots that document the evolution of jamón, from free-roaming pig to $150-a-pound obsession.

Jamón Chronicles, Part 2

Jamón Chronicles, Part 3

Jamón Chronicles, Part 4