Iberico ham and Serrano ham
What is Iberico ham and Serrano ham?
Iberian Ham (Jámon Ibérico, pronounced: [χaˈmon iˈβeɾiko] is a deep red Spanish raw ham made from Iberian pigs, which in Spain are simply known as black feet (pata negra). The ham is regarded as one of the best in the world and is most often served as a tapa with some cheese or bread and olive oil.
The Iberian pig leads an indulgent life before it is turned into a ham. The piglets are raised on grains and acorns. They spend the last three months of their lives half wild in the Dehesa landscape in the west of Spain, near the Portuguese border. Under certain circumstances, the pigs may be processed into Jamon Iberico de Bellota: Iberico Ham from acorns – the most highly prized of Spanish hams. To meet these conditions, grazing outside must take place in the months of October to December, when the soil is covered with newly fallen acorns. The pigs must also reach the magic weight limit of one hundred and sixty kilos.
In addition to Iberian Ham, Serrano Ham (Jámon Serrano, pronounced [xaˈmon seˈrano]) is also eaten throughout Spain. Serrano Ham means “mountain ham”. In the past, raw ham was mainly produced in mountain areas as the temperature differences between summer and winter were perfect for maturing hams.
Serrano Ham is produced in the same way as Iberian Ham, only other pig breeds are used for it, and the pigs do not necessarily eat acorns. Serrano Ham is eaten in the same way as Iberian Ham. It is also used for many regional dishes.
Did you know...
The oak trees in the Dehesa are full of elaidic acid, a chemical that is also found in olives and gives the fat in the ham its exceptional flavour. The Spanish sometimes call Iberian pigs “olives on legs”.
How to make Iberian Ham and Serrano Ham
There are strict rules for the production of Iberian and Serrano Ham, from keeping the animals to killing and slaughtering. The processing and maturing of the meat are also tightly controlled. First, the front and hind legs are rubbed with sea salt and allowed to rest – at least a full day per kilo weight. The meat is then left to mature and dry. For the highest quality class, Jamon Iberico de Bellota, it takes more than three years before the meat is ready to be eaten.
In the past, salting and drying the hams was a process in which entire families, even whole villages, participated.
How to eat Iberian Ham and Serrano Ham
Spanish ham is usually served at room temperature. Thin slices are hand cut from the pork leg. In Spanish food and beverage outlets, you will always find something like that on the bar.
You can eat Spanish ham with small gourmet snacks or on its own. The flavours are enhanced on a slice of bread. With a selection of other tapas, you can turn it into a whole meal.