All about ham
In order to enjoy Iberico ham to its maximum capacity and enjoy all its refined flavor. It is necessary to know everything related to its care, handling, type of cut, but also know how to differentiate the various types of hams, their degrees of quality and other very important aspects of our prestigious gourmet product.
Types of Iberico Ham
Since the recently approved law on quality of Iberico ham in Spain, there are various categories of quality for the different types of Iberico ham. These measures have been taken by the government seeking to combat misleading and thus strengthen the production of quality Iberico hams.
The introduction of tracking should allow consumers to indentify at all times the origin of the product, as well as the type of nutrition the pig received and the percentage of Iberico purity.
Types of iberico ham according to purity.
In fact, this classification is based primarily on two factors: the genetic characteristics of the pig and the type of nutrition received during the fattening period. In regards to the genetics of the pig, producers are to specify the percentage of Iberico genetic, which can be no less than 50% of Iberico race and 50% white duroc.
A 100% Iberico ham pata negra (black footed) is a safe bet due to the animals' predisposition to accumulate infiltrated fat. There is also a category of Iberico ham from a pig with a 75% Iberico breed. In all cases, the law indicates that all breeding should be performed with females of 100% Iberico breed and males of 100% Duroc.
In regards to the nutrition the pig received, it is considered that acorn-fed pigs yield higher quality Iberico hams, because it comes from a pig that has been fattened exclusively in a green pastured regimen.
These pigs feed on acorns, roots, pasture and other resources present in the Dehesa. There are two other categories for Iberico ham: Ham of cebo de campo, which refers to the animal fattened with a combination of outdoor pasture and grain feed in a farm. Iberico ham de cebo, refers to pigs fattened exclusively on grains.
The consumer can identify the different types of Iberico ham through a system of labels. Each color indicates a degree of quality: the white and green labels are for Iberico ham de cebo and for Iberico ham de cebo de campo. While the red and black labels are for the Iberico ham de bellota and bellota (acorn) ham 100% Iberico.
These rules also apply to shoulder cuts extracted from the front legs of the pig. These cuts are also identified with color labels corresponding to the type of nutrition the pig received. These labels also indicate the degree of Iberico purity of the pig.
Colored labels for Iberico ham's different degrees of quality.
Without doubt, the new classification of quality for the different types of Iberico ham, slows down the emergence of misleading advertising and it is aimed at protecting those manufacturers that strictly follow the guidelines outlined in regards to the genetic selection of the pigs and the type of feeding received.
This measure should increase the quality and prestige of Iberico hams, as well as strengthening its presence, both in Spain and at the international level, in the gourmet food sector.
How to Consume Iberico Ham
To consume Iberico ham, one should be aware of certain important factors that help determine its flavor, aroma and texture. Temperature is probably the most important of them.
Most experts are in agreement that the right temperature to consume Iberico ham is between 21° C and 23° C, because at this temperature the intramuscular fat acquires the texture, color and juiciness that is ideal for consumption.
This intramuscular fat is present in the middle of a thinly sliced piece that will allow you to enjoy it's flavor to the maximum. Iberico ham is considered a healthier food, due to its high oleic acid content: oleic acid's positive effects on cholesterol have been shown in numerous scientific studies.
Also, Iberico ham has a large amount of the vitamin E and B groups and high quality protein.
Best way to eat Iberico ham
In addition, the high levels of minerals such as iron and zinc allow you to cover nearly half of the nutritional daily needs of these minerals that are important in the prevention of diseases such as anemia.
The consumption of Iberico ham is healthy as longest a balanced diet is maintained. But be careful! Only ham that comes from pigs that been fattened by a pastured feeding, in example pigs fed exclusively with acorns and other resources of the dehesa, have these nutritional properties.
Presentation suggestions for Iberico ham
In regards to presentation, the Iberico ham is usually served sliced and placed as harmoniously as possible in a dish or tray. For example, when making circles with the slices. It is recommended not piled up the slices so as to prevent them from sticking together.
In general, Iberico ham is usually accompanied by slices of bread, and sometimes eaten with oil.
In some places, such as in Cataluña, a traditional bread made with tomato and oil is prepared, which is a great addition to Iberico ham. It is important to consider pairing fine wines with the Iberico hams. The experts in this art, recommend the consumption of Iberico ham with wines such as manzanilla.
It has become quite popular to pair with champagne or cava due to its mutual empowerment. Reserve wines of high quality are also very appropriate, as well as young wines with little body and some dry white wines.
There are also other ways to consume Iberico ham. All recipes containing Iberico ham are highly recommend as many of them are fast and easy to prepare.
A good example of such, is the traditional melon with Iberico ham. Although there are other recipes that are more or less elaborate, the flavor of Iberico ham can be enhanced and intensified by the presence of Iberico delicacies.
How to Cut Iberico Ham | Carve Iberico Ham
To cut Iberico Ham has become a ritual, and those who have mastered it travel the world delighting diners and expectant tasters. To cut an Iberico ham and fillet an Iberico ham there are a series of steps to follow and essential tools that are needed.
The first item needed is a good base to place the leg of the Spanish ham and safely work. In the market there are many models available. However, it is important to select one that will support and secure the Spanish ham adequately from the hip area to the hoof.
Base for hams (Ham holder)
To cut Iberico ham one must also have a series of specific knifes:
Types of knifes needed to cut Iberico ham
A - Broad blade knife: a short blade, but wide, robust and very sharp. It is used to make cuts in the ham hock area, and also to peel and remove the most superficial fat before beginning to slice.
B - Jamonero knife: blade is long and narrow, flexible and very sharp. This is specially designed to make clean and accurate cuts and to make the thinnest slices possible. This type of knife is also used for salmon as the alveoli in salmon are very sharp
C - Boning knife: blade is very short, narrow but robust and sharp. It is used to make clean cuts in areas of the ham that are complicated, especially zones that are close the bones.
* - Knife sharpener: A knife steel, used to sharpen all types of knives.
How to sharpen a jamonero knife
Most knives are sharpened with a sharpening stone, however in the case of the jamonero knife it is recommended to use a knife sharpener.
The knife sharpener must remain still during sharpening, letting the knife do the fluid movement along the length and width of the blade.
Start sharpening by placing the part of the blade closest to the handle onto the tip of the sharpener, then proceed to lowering progressively to the handle of the sharpener. Once one side of the blade is done, clean the knife sharpener and do the same on the other side.
How to cut an Iberico ham
Step 1: Prepare the ham
Before placing the jam on the base you have to think about the number of slices to be cut.
If you will be consuming the entire ham start by trimming at the hoof. If it is going to take several weeks to consume, place the Spanish ham upside down and remove the first slices from the hock area.
The ham should be placed on the base at the most comfortable height for the one processing and cutting it.
Step 2: Peel the ham
Once the Spanish ham is placed, you must peel the area where the slices will be removed from. Then continue to remove the yellow skin and fat along with any mold that has appeared during the curing and drying process.
It is advisable to only strip the area to be consumed to prevent the rest of the Spanish ham from drying and losing its properties.
Step 3: Slicing
Now you can start to slice the Iberico ham. After peeling the area to be sliced, it is recommended the slices to be around 6 cm. To do this, slide the knife from the hoof towards the hip, trying to cover the entire surface. Make cuts parallel cuts by keeping the knife as flat as possible.
The meat slices that come from the hip and lower part of the ham hock tend to be less juicy. It is strongly recommended to combine these slices with other slices that are juicy and with infiltrated fat.
To remove sliced from the hip it is necessary to use the smallest knife and make vertical cuts to allow easier meat extraction. Once all the slicing is completed, there can be pieces of meat stuck to the bone that can be removed. These pieces can be used to make delicious tacos.
When finished with one side of the ham, turn the Spanish ham over and continue the same procedure elsewhere on the ham.
When all the meat has been sliced, including the parts directly stuck to the bone, you can use a saw to cut the bones and use them to add flavor and aroma to soups or make a bone broth.
How to cut an Iberico shoulder
To cut an Iberico shoulder one must follow the same steps as to cutting Iberico ham, and take into account the same principles that apply to Iberico ham.
The only difference is the location of the bones in the shoulder and the need to use knives that are shorter and more rigid to be able to reach the shank area, which is one of the juiciest areas in the Iberico shoulder.
How to Preserve and Store Iberico Ham
Iberico ham is a product of high yield, which can occasionally lead to time passing between the first slices removed until only the bone and the meat stuck to the bone are left. For this reason it is very important to know the secrets and tricks to preserve the Iberico ham in the best possible condition.
For optimal preservation there are a few steps to follow during the trimming of a piece. Once the desired slices have been removed, it is necessary to know how to preserve Iberico ham.
It is important that the area where the slices were removed be covered and not exposed to air. You can cover the area by utilizing excess skin and fat to cover the surface of the cut area. In years gone by, the use of olive oil or cayenne pepper were used to ensure preservation.
In the case of Iberico ham these items aren't needed as the ham has been through a long process of drying and curing, and the use of the ham's own fat is more than sufficient to preserve it. In this regard, it is important to cover the rest of the Spanish ham with a dish cloth or a cotton rag.
Cover the area of trimming with skin and fat
In addition, it is recommended to hang the Spanish ham from the hoof in a cool and dry place with a temperature between 10 and 18 degrees Celsius. These conditions are usually found in cellars and pantries. However, some people choose to cover it directly on a jamonero (ham holder).
Which ever way you decide to do this, it is of utmost importance to never cover with plastic wrap as the Spanish ham will sweat and will ruin it's flavor. Every time there is a time gap between trimming slices of ham, you must remove the top superficial part as it will harden and its taste will be bitter.
It is important not to cut more slices than will be consumed, as it is difficult to preserve the organoleptic properties of the cut slices. If for some reason you have more slices than what can be consumed, the best way to keep them is by wrapping the slices in wax paper, and refrigerate during the days needed.
In this case, it is important to let the slices warm to room temperature so the texture, smell and flavor will approximate freshly cut slices.
Store slices in wax paper and keep in the refrigerator
Many people prefer slices that have been vacuum sealed then the ham is stored in a refrigerator. If this is the case there are a few factors to consider before consumption. First of all, the Spanish ham must be eaten while it’s at room temperature (around 21 C), so it's necessary to remove the ham from the fridge and let it sit for a couple hours before it is eaten.
This will ensure maximum flavor and enjoyment. Also, take the ham slices out of the packaging while letting it sit at room temperature. The vacuum sealing is a great way to preserve Iberico ham, however it will cause alteration of the ham's organoleptic properties, which the slices can fully recover while exposed to ambient temperatures.
Pairing of Iberico Ham
Pairing of Iberico ham is a practice that combines art and science equally, and consist of finding the most appropriate drink for this exquisite delicacy. In recent years people are increasingly interested and passionate about this type of knowledge, so the number of contests and events are increasing in Spain and around the world.
Due to this, the question has ascended as to "what is it exactly?".
The term pairing refers to the analogy between two elements and implies a certain harmonious relationship between them. In fact there is customary talk during pairing of Iberico ham speaks of harmony and not so much what the ham is being garnished with.
In Spain, the importance of wine production and the presence of wines of all kinds means that there is a natural relationship between ham and wine. In the case of Iberico ham, a product that can delight the most demanding customers paired with the right wine can result in a vastly superior taste experience.
This is what experts in pairing of Iberico ham dedicate their time in finding the right type of wine or other drink in which both product's flavor will be enhanced, merging or find its uniqueness of each one. This is done with a series of parameters based on sensory experience and not so much in the way its commonly eaten or gastronomic tradition.
Due to the increasing specialization in the art, we can classify the appropriate drinks to accompany Iberico ham, and establish a few general and precise rules.
Ideal pairing, wine and Iberico ham
In spite of the fact that it is traditionally believed Iberico ham is to be paired with sweet wines, sparkling and dry was a healthy combination.
However now it is known to be the worst pairing due to the high sugar content and it is a contradiction with the intense flavor of Iberico ham, causing the taste to lack fluency.
White wines, pink wines and those wines with fruity flavors are not recommended for pairing with Iberico ham as they can mask the flavor of Iberico ham.
Dry sparkling wines such as cava and champagne seem to be a perennial favorite pairing. Without losing its identity, body and flavor these wines work very well to enhance the flavor of Iberico ham.
However reserve red wines or young wines (aged less than 2 years) can have too strong a flavor, but in general, due to their high content of tannins, these type of wines in pairing with Iberico ham can create a very pleasant feeling, and allow you to enjoy both flavors.
Light and young wines are recommended to be paired with Iberico ham as they relate in a very fluid way and can create new flavors that cannot be found in them alone. In conclusion, practically all experts agree that fine wines and manzanilla wine are without a doubt the best. It's sharp and penetrating flavors enhance Iberico ham.
This is why it is an undisputed number one pairing on the list.
Quality Laws for Iberico Ham | The New Law 2014
The year 2014 began with a very important change for the Iberico ham product sector and consumers. The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment passed a new Law that regulates everything related to Iberico ham. From the selection of the pigs, the type of breeding, feeding, slaughtering and processing of the Iberico ham.
The new law aims to make all production processes as transparent as possible by following more stringent measures of traceability. This will make easier identification on the origin of the final product and thus establish the product's degree of quality.
These measures were made necessary by the increase in misleading and false advertising and labelling. This is reported by butchers who do respect and follow the rules by offering total transparency during the production process.
The new law is intended to strengthen the image and prestige of the Spanish Iberico ham products around the world.
But, what factors in the new law are used to determine the different degrees of quality? First of all, taking into consideration the pig's racial purity: it can only be called Iberico ham if it comes from a 100% Iberico pig or comes from a 100% Iberico female crossed with a 100% Duroc male, in which case you must specify the percentage of each part of the genetic mix (50 %, 75% or 100 %).
In regards to the sources of origin granted to the different producers there has been no change. They remain four in number and make reference to the geographical area where the pigs are bred and the hams are processed: Valle de los Pedroches, Huelva, Dehesa de Extremadura and Guijuelo.
The other factor being considered is the type of nutrition the pig receives during the fattening period, and it is of vital importance due to the fact that former denominations have changed from "pure Iberico" or "de cebo". Once the pig reaches the 25 kg during its fattening period, the quality of the meat is determined based on the pig's nutrition, especially in terms of infiltrated fat.
The new law gives three fattening options:
The Iberico ham de cebo comes from pigs who during the fattening period were fed exclusively with grains and legumes.
Iberico ham de cebo de campo comes from a pig fattened on a combined regimen of feed and natural pastures.
Finally, and still the highest quality comes from the Iberico ham de bellota, referring to a type of fattening exclusively on acorns and other resources found in the meadow, therefore a free range diet.
Therefore, the degree of quality of the Iberico ham depends solely on these two factors: the degree of genetic purity and the type of feeding the pig received during the fattening period. Due to this, the new law introduces a new end labeling system that should specify in a clearly visible way the percentage of Iberico genetics and the type of feeding, as mentioned above.
These labels are integrated with a few tags that should be placed at the time of slaughter with other measures of traceability placed upon breeders. There are four colors that indicate the various degrees of quality of the Iberico ham:
White: Iberico ham de cebo (fed with grain) comes from a pig with at least 50% Iberian genetic.
Green: Iberico ham de cebo de campo (fed with grain and grass) comes from a pig with at least 50% Iberian race.
Red: Iberico ham de bellota (exclusively pasture fed) with at least a 50%Iberian genetic.
Black: Acorn-fed ham 100% Iberian (exclusively fed on pastures) and 100% Iberian race.
The Dehesa | The Meadow
It is well known that the most important factors in determining the degree of quality of a Spanish ham are the genes of the pig and the type of food provided during the fattening period. But these can only be understood on the basis of the place of origin of the best Spanish hams in the world.
We are referring to the Dehesa (Meadow).
The term La Dehesa refers to a very particular ecosystem, a large area of Southern Spain, characterized by savanna-like grassland and made up of an important quantity of trees such as Holm oak, and Cork oak trees which produce acorns and are considered a treasure by the Iberico product producers.
These are the element that give Iberico ham de bellota its identity - to such an extent that the acorn has become an symbol of a job well done.
The dehesa is a result of harmonious respect of nature on the part of its settlers, who have used for farming purposes and a source of highly valued resources such as cork and wood.
This balance has been maintained for centuries, on the basis of respect for the seasonal rhythms and to the preservation of resources for the future, making the dehesa today one of the most exemplary ecosystems in the world.
Both the holm oaks and the cork oak provide shade, acorns and the ideal microclimate for the pigs. The period of greatest production occurs between the months of September and February. This coupled with the fact that the temperatures are lower, makes it the best time when the majority of pigs come to scurry around the grass land.
During the rest of the year the pigs consume other resources such as grass, roots, and left over acorns, which are also beneficial to their nutrition.
You might be asking: why are acorn so important to obtain high quality Spanish hams? The answer is found in the high concentration of oleic acid found in acorns (up to 93%), in combination with the pig's disposition to accumulating fat. This fat will be infiltrated in the meat, an effect which is cherished by consumers.
Without a doubt the reason for Iberico ham's success is its juiciness and the unbeatable flavor the acorn provides, making Iberico ham de bellota a unique product.
We can affirm there is a perfect relationship between the pigs and the dehesa, which is why the conservation of it and good business practices will ensure sustainable production in the future.
Pigs from the Dehesa
Also worth noting are the ramification in regards to health issues. In fact, numerous scientific studies claim that Iberico pigs fed on acorns produce hams that are healthier than hams from white pigs. Iberico hams contain lower cholesterol and a high concentration of oleic acid which aids in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
Iberico hams have a large amount of vitamins and minerals which makes them a healthy product to consume with a balanced diet. However it is important to remember that these parameters are only present in pigs fattened in the Dehesa and fed exclusively on acorns.
All these aspects are only possible thanks to the dehesa, which provides excellence on its treasures in the Iberico sector. For centuries pigs have been rigorously selected, raised on an open range, and feeding in the healthiest way possible to achieve the best condition for their butchering and the production of higher quality Iberico products.
DOP Protected Source of Origin of Iberico Ham
The Source of Origin of Iberico Ham (DOP-Protected Sources of Origin) were formed in 1992 with the objective of ensuring the highest quality of Iberico products offered in the market, thereby protecting those manufacturers who are recognized for their prestigious product compared to other brands who do not comply with the DOP requirements of manufacturing.
And by protecting the consumer by guaranteeing that the product purchased is of the highest quality and manufactured with a series of characteristics making it a unique product.
As we have seen, there are several factors that determine the degree of quality of an Iberico ham. The genetic disposition of the pigs to gain fat, the nutrition received during its fattening period and the method of processing are among the most important.
The Dehesa has played an important role in the nourishment and allowed the best genetic breeding of Iberico pigs for centuries.
In this way we can see how sources of origin in the Iberico ham are intimately related to the regulation of quality Iberico ham. For a ham to be labeled DOP, it must comply with the regulations established by the law:
The ham should come from a pig with at least 50% Iberico genes, nutrition should adhere to grain, grain and pasture, or acorns, and should follow strict guidelines of butchering according to hygiene and safety standards. All this translates into a final product with unique organoleptic properties.
The source of origin in the Iberico ham (DOP) serves to give an added value to this product through transparency. This means that you can be sure with 100% guarantee the product has been produced in regulated Dehesa zones and prepared in accordance with unique traditional processes based on local knowledge put into practice.
For this reason when referring to sources of origin it is in fact a protected geographic region. Thus we can see that sources of origin of Iberico ham serve in two areas.
First, it protects geographical areas where these products are produced and are the main source of economic revenue for the regions.
Second, it protects the consumer from fraud and misleading advertising, and prevents the use of certain labels used to identify products that do not comply with the requirements. In regards to Iberico ham in Spain, four regulated sources of origin exist, which correspond to certain regions where Iberico ham production has been long and successful.
DOP Los Pedroches: Only applicable to the Spanish hams from Iberico pigs which comply with strict regulations related to the type of animal, the nutrition received and the process of development.
These pigs are reared on meadows found in the Sierra de Los Pedroches, which is made up of a climate very similar in the region north of Cordoba.
On the other hand, the production is restricted to 32 municipalities located in this area. The hams Los Pedroches are known to be the less fibrous and has a brigh pink color and it is known for the juiciness of the meat.
DOP Dehesa de Extremadura: The rules of quality of Iberico ham also apply here. A minimum of 50% of Iberico genes and a fattening diet made up of grass.
This is regularly taken place in the Dehesa between Cáceres and Badajoz. The DOP includes 45 municipalities in the province of Cáceres and 40 municipalities in the region of the Gredos mountains, Ibor-Villuercas, Sierra de Montánche y Sierra de San Pedro.
These Spanish hams are know of their salt content and for having a pink and juicy meat, with an aroma and flavor that differentiate it from others.
DOP Huelva: Just as the previous DOP Huelva is held to the same standards, limiting the issuance of certificates of quality to products of Iberico pigs raised and fattened in the Dehesa of Huelva, Sevilla, Cadiz, Cáceres, Badajós, Malaga and Cordoba and producers from 31 municipalities from the regions of the Sierra in Huelva.
An Iberico ham from Huelva can be recognized due to its elongated profile and gray color on the sides, however the meat is bright pink. It is highly valued for its scent and flavor.
DOP Guijuelo: Just as the previous, the pigs from this region must be raised and fattened in the meadows of Salamanca, Toledo, Avila, Segovia, Zamora, Badajoz, Cáceres, Sevilla, Huelva and Cordoba.
Regarding production only 77 municipalities of Guijuelo (Salamanca) have permission to get the certificate of quality, therefore, its production is done exclusively by them.
Guijuelo ham is salty and a bit sweet. The meat is pink, and the fat is gold in color. The flavor is intense and its aroma is a result of a long and through curing process.
Nutritional Properties of Acorn-fed Iberico Ham
The virtues of Iberico ham as an gourmet product seem indisputable, at a national and international level. However, other aspects of it are not well known to the rest of the public. In this case one of the elements that gives a higher value to Iberico ham is its nutritional properties compared to other types of ham.
Across the last several decades there has been a large number of research papers on the nutritional qualities that differentiate Iberico ham de bellota from other hams.
This is important, as the first conclusion made from the research is that Iberico ham de bellota has some nutritional properties very different from those of other hams, whether from Iberico pigs or white.
This makes clear the importance of the nutrition the pigs received during its fattening period. In fact, the higher quality of Iberico ham de bellota is precisely due to the diet of acorns and other resources found in the Dehesa. This quality shows itself in its aroma, flavor and certain nutritional values.
From all the numerous nutritional properties found in Iberico ham, among the most beloved are the protein and lipids due to their richness of flavor.
These are also found in other hams, but Iberico hams de bellota have a higher quality. A quality that is based on the concentration of amino acids for each gram of protein, and Iberico ham de bellota has a much higher concentration in comparison to other hams.
|Nutritional information of Iberico ham
||For each 100 grams
It should be noted that the large volume of intramuscular fat found in Iberico ham de bellota is due to the genetic predisposition of the Iberico pigs to accumulate fat of this type.
Also, due to the fact their diets consist only of acorns which is a dry fruit with high concentrations of oleic acid, this fat is unsaturated, which is very different to Spanish hams coming from white pigs that contain high amounts of saturated fat.
This means Iberico ham de bellota contains the kind of cholesterol which is considered good by experts in health and nutrition.
Another aspect highly valued from Iberico ham de bellota is its ease on the body to digest it. It has been shown that during the process of curing the ham, there is a chemical reaction called proteolysis.
This chemical process raises the level of digestibility ranging between 85% to 100%, this results into a greater ability for the body to absorb the Spanish ham's nutrients.
In addition to fats and lipids, the Iberico ham de bellota provides various nutrients of great quality, among which are high number of minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, magnesium, iron, sodium, and other minerals to a lesser extent are superior, if compared with other types of hams.
Finally, a diet of acorns contributes to the absorption of certain vitamins in the vitamin E group, which are valuable due to the maturing and oxidation of Iberico ham de bellota and other vitamins from the vitamin B group, especially B1 and B12.
All of these factors place Iberico ham de bellota in a privileged position in regard to nutrition and the prevention of diseases.
It is noteworthy that the nutritional properties found in the Iberico ham makes it specially recommended for the muscular development, since it has a large amount of proteins and lipids, which is highly recommended for pregnant women or for children during the different stages of growth.
It has also shown that the food with a high concentration of B-group vitamins is good for the treatment and the prevention of depression.
Finally, its high digestibility makes it a good food to eat while recovering from post-o, also its beneficial to maintain a good diet while experiencing stomach problems.
All these nutritional properties of Iberico ham makes the product an essential item in the Iberian diet, consuming it with regularity and without excess can provide many benefits that lead to a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Recipes with Spanish Ham
Serrano ham and especially Iberico ham are products that do not need elaborate recipes to show their flavor in all its fullness.
A thin slice of high quality Iberico ham by itself can delight the most demanding palate.
However, there are many recipes that are easy to prepare and a delicious alternative for you to prepare. Here are some ideas for you.
Ham with Melon: A classic recipe, especially in hot weather, and one of the easiest recipes imaginable. Simply cut some thin slices or purchase already sliced and garnish it with sweet melon.
There are documents that show this recipe in the seventeenth century and since then it has been a favorite for habitual ham eaters. You can choose to cut the melon in different ways - thin slices, balls, or serve it on skewers.
Spanish ham with Melon
Bread with ham and tomato: Another classic, indispensable in Catalonia, and increasingly valuable in the rest of Spain.
Although you can use any type of bread and prepare in different ways, it is recommended to use Catalan bread. Some opt to smear the tomato in the bread directly, while others prefer to shred the tomato.
In both cases, the final touch will be a bit of olive oil. Other variants are toasting the bread, adding garlic and then smearing the tomato.
Endive with ham: The slices of Spanish ham are rolled, then paired with previously boiled endive. This is the base, and can be complemented with melted cheese or cream cheese Roquefort.
Asparagus with ham: This recipe is very similar to the previous one. You can choose to boil, grill or bake the asparagus in the oven.
Normally cheese or sauces are not used, as the Spanish ham combined with the asparagus provides a very particular flavor.
Ham Croquettes: This recipe is a bit more elaborate and laborious to prepare. First chop garlic, onion and Spanish ham. Ball up the mixture with olive oil or butter. Then proceed to add sifted flour to prevent lumps.
Then pour milk and stir until all is combined. You can add salt, pepper, parsley for flavor. Once the dough has been formed, separate in long sausage like balls. Let the dough cool and proceed to cut into pieces. Dunk each piece in egg, then flour, then crumbled bread and proceed to fry in hot oil.
Ham with peas: This ham recipe is very simple and results in an excellent dish. First the peas must be cooked for 15 minutes if they are fresh peas, if frozen follow package directions.
Chop onion and garlic and add to chopped Spanish ham. You can add wine to add flavor. Add can be added to make scrambled eggs.
Croquettes with Spanish ham
Tomato soup with ham: To prepare the soup you need at least half a kilo of ripe tomatoes, onion and peppers, which must be crushed. It is recommended the tomato skin is removed prior to blending.
This can be easily done by boiling the tomato for a few minutes and the skin can be easily removed. Next add moisten bread crumbs and keep blending while adding olive oil.
This will provide your soup, then you can add your high quality Spanish ham, You can fry your ham very lightly to make the ham crunchy.
In addition to these recipes, the Spanish ham can be used as an a main ingredient in many recipes. These can be a seafood paella, in omelets, crepes, pizza or in a salad.
Recipes including ham are classics for Spanish cuisine. One of these products with umami enhances flavors of our dishes, which is why we can say that there is always ways to innovate to new extremes.
Differences Between Iberico Ham and Serrano Ham
For avid Spanish ham fans, it should not be hard to tell whether you're looking at a good ham or not. But you might wonder whether you're dealing with an Iberico ham or a Serrano ham.
What real difference is there between the two, and where did those differences come from? Is Serrano a special breed? Are the pigs fed differently for the two types of Spanish ham? Why would you choose one over the other?
Iberico ham and Serrano ham: appearances are deceptive
While it might seem that we're talking about two very similar products, especially at first glance, in fact there's a large difference between Iberico and Serrano ham, with the two having very different aromas, flavors, colors and textures.
This despite the fact that ultimately, a leg of pork is the origin of both products.
Differences in the breeds of pigs used, the curing methods and the feeding regime of the pigs all contribute to this divide.
The sensory properties of Iberico and Serrano ham
In short, these organoleptic properties to which we refer are the aroma, flavor, color and texture of the Spanish ham. Using these, we can establish some of the most important differences between Iberico and Serrano ham.
In terms of aroma, all experts agree that Iberico ham has a unique aroma that is hard to miss and even harder to mistake for anything else.
There are clear color differences too: Serrano tends to be a pinkish color, in contrast to the deep bright red of Iberico ham.
In terms of flavor, a good Iberico ham is distinguished by a more intense falvour and a juicier texture, due to the quality of intramuscular fat present in the ham.
Meanwhile, the Serrano equivalent tends to have a saltier flavor. Finally, Serrano tends to a less juicy texture due to a lower proportion of intramuscular fat, and Iberico tends to have a more rugged texture.
However, we don't need to taste or feel a Spanish ham to know whether it is Iberico or Serrano. We can distinguish at a glance if we know what to look for.
Iberico is typically a longer ham with an elongated shape and a narrower bone, and typically ends on a black hoof. If you can't tell by looking at the ham directly, look at the price: Iberico is much the more expensive of the two types, with its increased quality reflected in a larger price tag.
A question of genes
The main difference between Iberico and Serrano ham is the origin of the raw material - the type of pork that's used. Iberico ham has to come from pigs that are at least 50% certified Iberico breed, and can only be mixed with one other breed: White Duroc.
The highest quality Iberico ham is considered to come from 100% Iberico pigs. This breed is black with a long snout and has little fur, and is genetically predisposed to storing up fat between its muscles, meaning that when it's hung to cure the flavor from the fat is absorbed into the muscles.
This is just one reason for its popularity.
Meanwhile, when we speak of Serrano ham, we can see that we're referring to any non-Iberico pig breed. Serrano can be made from mixed-breed pigs with a small amount of Iberico blood, but it's more usually made from White Duroc, Large White, Landrace and Pietrain.
The importance of the feeding regime
Another factor is the feeding regime. Iberico ham is considered to be 'graded' based on what the animal has been fed and fattened on, with the 'montanera' ('mountain pasture') regime resulting in the best flavor and most prestigious product.
This means the pigs have been reared and fed in mountain pastureland, eating wild grasses and acorns, resulting in the 'bellota' flavor that characterizes the very best Iberico ham.
Meanwhile, lower-quality hams come from pigs fed more modern diets including grains.
The origins of Iberico and Serrano ham
When we speak of Serrano ham, we're talking about non-Iberico pigs reared intensively and fed lower-quality diets focussed on mass rahter than flavor in the fattening period before slaughter.
This means that the flavor cannot compare to Iberico pigs reared and fattened in traditional open pastures.
However, Serrano hams are graded based on quality too, with the grades being 'bodega' (cellar), Reserve and Grand Reserve. The term 'serrano' refers to the process of curing the ham in the dry, cold air of a mountain climate.
The consumer who wishes to purchase either product will have no difficulty in identifying, through labelling, the origin, breed, feeding regime and quality of the majority of Spanish hams on the market. (All those sold through Jamonprive are labelled clearly.)
There are four main designations for the origins of Iberico hams: Guijuelo, Dehesa de Extremadura, Huelva and Los Pedroches. Meanwhile, the best-known Serrano hams come from Salamanca, Teruel or Trévelez, though they are produced virtually across the entire Iberian peninsula.
Differences Between Shoulder and Iberico ham
When it's time to buy an Iberico ham for a Christmas party or other celebration, we often realize that we don't quite know the difference between a shoulder and an Iberico ham. What's the best choice and why are they different? Find out below.
Differences between shoulder and Iberico ham. They're similar - but they're not the same
The differences between the two products may seem subtle if you're unfamiliar with the world of Spanish ham, since both products are made in a similar way.
However, for experts and lovers of this delicacy, there are considerable differences between shoulder and Iberico ham. Each has distinct characteristics, differing in flavor, appearance, texture and aroma, so it's good to know what you're shopping for so you can match your purchase to your needs and tastes.
Differences in size and weight
The Iberico pig is a quadrapedal animal with large, strong forelegs that can also be used for meat, just like the hind legs. The cured front leg is shoulder, while the cured rear leg is ham. However, this is the source of one of the major differences between Iberico ham and shoulder, since the forelegs are both shorter and slighter than the back legs.
As a result, shoulder tends to be smaller than Iberico ham.
This is in itself a difference that means substantial alterations in weight, size, number of bones and therefore the distribution and quality of the meat.
A foreleg is not just "a back leg at the front": there are big anatomical differences that result in a different piece of meat. For instance a Spanish ham will typically measure between 70 and 90cm hoof to tip, while a shoulder usually is between about 60 and 75cm. Spanish hams are usually also wider.
Iberico shoulders and hams
Another difference between shoulder and Iberico ham has to do with the shape and arrangement of bones.
The shoulder is easily recognizable because it contains the distinctively-shaped shoulder blade (the 'palette' that gives it its Spanish name, 'paletilla'), which occupies a larger area than the bones in the rear leg.
These are characteristically smaller and differently-shaped.
The differences described above are important, but what we're really interested in is the organoleptic qualities of an Iberico ham or a shoulder: flavor, texture, aroma, color.
These in fact form the main differences between shoulder and Iberico ham. Many experts agree that Iberico shoulder is a tastier meat than Iberico ham in some ways, partly due to a greater amount of intramuscular fat and partly due to a shorter cure that results in a 'younger' flavor.
However, it's also typically a less mature, intricate and nuanced flavor than the famously subtle Iberico ham.
Typically an Iberico ham will develop deeper, richer flavors during a longer cure. We can expect to find that the flavors originally present in the meat have mellowed and intermingled during the curing process. The shoulder's shorter cure results in a more intense but less subtle flavor.
While this isn't immediately clear when you read it, your palate will know the difference, so don't miss the chance to taste and compare the two!
Practical Differences Between Iberico Ham and Shoulder
Obviously, these are factors to consider when you're buying an Iberico ham or shoulder.
Beyond the differences between shoulder and Iberico ham that result in different flavors, which are subjective and ultimately depend on the taste of the consumer as much as the taste of the Iberico ham, there are several other matters to consider.
One is the pocketbook: If you're looking for an Iberico product ham is more expensive than shoulder because it requires more time to produce.
A general rule is that a kilo of Iberico ham will cost about twice as much as a kilo of shoulder, but this needs some qualification. In fact, if we're talking about products from animals with the same degree of breed purity - 100% Iberico, say - and that have been reared and fattened on a similar feeding regime, there will be a significant difference in weight between an Iberico ham and a shoulder.
Overall, Iberico hams typically weigh about 7.5kg while shoulders are usually closer to 5kg.
Not only are shoulders lighter, they're bonier too, thanks to the shoulder blade, which results in a smaller proportion of meat as well as a smaller product overall.
This makes them an ideal choice for a specific time when the whole product will be consumed at once, like a family occasion. If you're hoping to get several parties out of your Iberico purchase, or you're looking for something you can consume slowly at home, an Iberico ham might be a better purchase.
Regardless of the differences between Iberico ham and shoulder, the real decisive question is: which do you like? Individual taste is the final barometer, so test both and decide for yourself!
Differences Between Iberico Ham and Iberico Shoulder
When it's time to buy a leg of Iberico ham or a shoulder for a family celebration or a party, we often realize we don't really know the difference between ham and shoulder! What's the difference, and which is best? Find out below!
Differences Between Shoulder and Iberico Ham: They're Similar, But They're Not The Same
If you're unfamiliar with Iberico ham the differences between shoulder and Iberico ham may seem subtle but they're very important. Both pieces undergo a similar curing process and they're from the same pigs, but because they're based on different cuts of pork they behave differently both under the knife and on the tongue, and each has distinct characteristics.
It's best to understand the organoleptic qualities and the differences in weight and composition between the two types of piece before you make your decision.
Then you can buy based on your tastes or on your guests.
Differences of Size and Weight
Iberico pigs are quadrapedal and thus each limb is large enough to be useful for eating. However, the front legs are not just two more rear legs in a different place: they are articulated differently and contain different bones and muscles so their products are also different.
The front legs are both shorter and smaller than the back legs, and thus shoulder is a smaller product than Iberico ham.
In both size and weight, there are several important differences between shoulder and Iberico ham. As the forelegs are shorter and lighter so too is shoulder compared to Iberico ham.
When you buy it, the average shoulder will be about 60 to 75cm long and rather lighter than the average Iberico ham. Typically, a ham will be about 70-90cm long and heavier and broader than a shoulder.
Because of the distribution of the bones throughout each piece, especially the presence of the shoulder blade in a shoulder, there is usually more meat on an Iberico ham too.
Iberico shoulders and hams hanging
Another difference between shoulder and Iberico ham is the shape. This is largely dictated by the arrangement of the bones of the peice.
In a shoulder, the presence of the large, flat shoulder blade contributes to a broad, flattened shape that has a 'paddle-like' appearance while Spanish hams are more rounded as well as being heavier.
The above-described differences are important, but they are not crucial from the standpoint of the palate.
In fact, flavor, aroma, texture and visual appearance, grouped together under the banner of "organoleptic qualities," form the main difference between shoulder and Iberico ham. many expert tasters believe that shoulder is the tastier meat of the two, partly because it contains more fat which is vital as an influence on flavor and texture, and partly because it's usually cured for a shorter time, giving a "younger," more piquant flavor.
However, both have their partisans and Iberico ham has a unique and powerful flavor of its own Iberico hams are hung for longer than shoulders, which produces a more nuanced flavor with a balance between its disparate elements.
You'll find tones of spices as well as the Spanish ham flavors you'd expect, all influenced by the acorns in the pigs' diets, in a good Iberico ham.
By contrast, shoulder has a more direct, less subtle flavor. Both are somewhat difficult to describe and are better tasted than heard or read about!
Tips for Buying an Iberico Ham or Shoulder
Obviously the facts raised above will form part of the basis for your decision. Beyond the qualities in each product that are subjective, there are some matters that are purely objective and factual and these should be factored into your thinking too.
One of these directly affects your pocket: Iberico ham is typically more expensive per kilo than shoulder because of the greater expense incurred by its longer curing period. However, an Iberico ham will take longer to eat too!
A general rule that will help you figure out which product best suits your needs is that, kilo for kilo, an Iberico ham costs about twice as much as shoulder, when we're talking about products of equivalent quality.
If your Iberico ham and shoulder both come from pigs with the same degree of Iberico ancestry and that have beed reared and fattened on the same diet, this rule usually holds true.
It should be noted, though, that the two products are on average different weights, with Iberico hams typically weighing in at about 7.5kg while a shoulder usually weighs about 5kg.
When combined with the fact that a shoulder will typically contain a higher amount of bone than an Iberico ham, this means that a shoulder is ideal for occasions when they will be eaten all at once, while a ham can usually be made to last longer or to serve a larger number of guests.
If the party you're planning is a very large affair, an Iberico ham might work out as the more economical choice overall.
Regardless of the exterior differences between shoulder and Iberico ham, what matters is your own subjective taste: if the palate is satisfied, all else is by the wayside!
Iberico Ham and its Competitors Around the World
Iberico ham is one of the most luxurious and reputable of cured meat products. Its well-deserved fame has spread across the globe. But elsewhere, especially in Europe, there are other, very similar products. Let's find out about them!
The hams of Italy and France
Since ancient times, the inhabitants of Rome copied the techniques used across their empire and Spanish ham production methods were no exception.
Today, Italy has a regional ham culture like that of Spain, with different areas excelling at different types of ham. Some of these are unheard-of outside Italy while others have gathered worldwide renown.
Prosciutto from Parma, for instance, is one of those that has made its mark on the outside world. Characterized by a procedure in which fat is removed by manual manipulation with salt for several days before being left to cure, Parma ham has become a common sight in delis and even supermarkets.
Meanwhile, La Mancha ham is a smoked boneless ham from Northeast Italy, while La Coppa comes from Calabria and is characterized by being boneless and by marinating for several days before being stuffed into natural casings and smoked, followed by a serveral-months-long curing process.
In France, there are also many types of ham. Often the hoof is removed in French hams, in contrast to Spanish hams. The ham known as Jambon Cru can have varying degrees of quality, depending on the curing time and other factors.
The best known ham regions in France are Bayonne and Ardenne, although most French regions have ham cultures of their own, using curing, smoking and other techniques to produce local delicacies.
French Jambon cru
Ham in the rest of the world
In other countries, there are products that are somewhat like Spanish ham, while never really approaching the quality and craftsmanship of the real thing.
In the USA, for instance, country ham, a product that has gained great fame in some states, especially in Virginia, is salted for over a month and usually cured for up to four months, and is almost always eaten cooked.
Germany also has its own ham culture. In Westphalia, they make a product surprisingly similar to the US Virginia or country ham. A fully-boned piece is marinated and salted, then smoked over wood chips before hanging.
Another place with a well-developed ham culture is China, where they make a Jinhua ham using similar technique, but with minor alterations that make for a very different finished product. Hungary's Mangalica ham has also attracted a following.
Named after the Mangalica breed of pigs which is only found in the region, it is made from Mangalica and Duroc and has high levels of marbling fat.
Other European nations, including Croatia, Romania, and the Czech Republic produce variants with similar techniques.
Hams of the Iberian peninsula
When it comes to flavor, there's a single factor that has the greatest effect on quality: the pastureland in the Iberian peninsula is the best in the world, and the result is the ideal environment for raising pigs - and an undisputed place at the top of the world's ham producers.
Scientific data derived from literally hundreds of nutritional studies and results of competitions and international culinary fairs all agree: ham is the quintessential Iberian product and Iberico ham is the best of the best.
The best Iberian pasture is mostly in Spain, though it extends into Portugal, in such regions as Alentejo. While Portuguese ham is overshadowed by Spain in world renown, Portugal produces some excellent hams, many of which are very similar to their Spanish counterparts.
It's also posible to find some Spanish hams from white pigs in this area that would be familiar to a Spanish gourmand - Chaves, for example.
Spanish ham with meadowland in the background
The element that makes the difference to the Iberico ham more than any other is the pasture. Iberian pastures are suited to raising and fattening pigs on the 'montanero' ('mountainside') diet, meaning that the pigs eat wild natural grasses and acorns, resulting in the sought-after 'bellota' flavor pervading the meat.
This is the factor which makes the difference in international tastings, which over and again highlight the quality and intense flavor of Spanish acorn-fed Iberico ham.
This is made possible only through a strict quality control system and traceability through the production process, which ensures the purity of the breed, the adherence to a montanera fattening regime and the times and methods of salting, marinating and curing.
It is interesting to know the different techniques for making traditional products like Spanish ham, but it's impossible to escape the conclusion that Spanish acorn-fed Iberico ham is considered the best in the world, both for its variety and its quality.
This reputation can only hope to be maintained if the pastureland is preserved, and if the producers continue to use and refine the traditional techniques handed down to them by previous generations of craftsmen.
These techniques involve not additives and complex marinades, but the the gradual maturation of the natural flavor of acorn-fed Iberico pork to produce the world's finest ham.
Nutritional Properties of Iberico Ham
Undoubtedly,the main reason for the success of Iberico ham in Spain and worldwide is its flavor and the pleasure millions take in eating it.
But while we often think that anything we like must be bad for us, that's not true of Iberico ham. Rather, it's one of the healthiest foods you'll meet and its excellent nutritional qualities have seen it recommended by nutritionists as an ideal part of a healthy balanced diet.
The unique nutritional qualities of Iberico ham
The first thing we need to understand is that not all Spanish hams offer the same features. Just as they taste different, so they have different nutritional properties too.
Iberico ham offers very different nutritional profiles from other hams, because of the breed of pig used but also because of the raising and fattening regime. Meat from pigs fed on acorns and wild grasses is very different nutritionally from other hams.
To be specific, Iberico ham is especially rich in protein and minerals, offering Vitamin B and E in high amounts. It's also highly digestible making its nutritional content easier for the body to access.
Iberico ham from Guijelo
Rich in proteins and good fats
Both Serrano ham and Iberico ham are rich in proteins and good fats, though Iberico hams are of higher quality.
This is because the level of amino acids per gram of protein is higher, resulting in improved nutritional qualities for the amount of food eaten. Furthermore, the curing process to which they are exposed initiates a process called "proteolysis," which aids digestion.
This is very important because with a higher digestibility quotient nutrients are assimilated much better.
The high content of intramuscular fat is an important source of fatty acids, especially unsaturated fatty acids, while the saturated fat level is well below that found in meats from white pigs.
These parameters show that regular consumption of Spanish ham increases the "good" cholesterol and decreases the "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream.
For years now, nutritionists have been pointing to this effect of the Mediterranean diet as one reason why it seems to prolong life and improve heart health.
Nutritional differences between Serrano and Iberico ham
It's also notable that in terms of organoleptic properties like flavor and aroma, Serrano and Iberico hams are quite different.
Therefore, we'd expect to find nutritional differences, and this is is exactly what we do find. Due to everything from curing methods to pig breeds, as well as the raising and fattening methods, Iberico ham is significantly more nutritious than ham from white pigs.
Nutritional information: Iberico ham
Also noteworthy is the importance of the wild grass and acorn "montanera" feeding regime in causing the high Vitamin E content in Iberico ham.
This is very important because Vitamin E is involved in the maturation process and oxidation of the ham, which means it's one reason it's possible to make Iberico ham with such relatively low salt content compared to other hams.
Alongside these excellent properties, Iberico ham is also a great source of magnesium, phosphorus, iron and Vitamin B1 and B12.
Ham: A health food
All the above factors lead to the conclusion that the nutritional properties of Iberico ham are ideal for maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, as well as providing specific dietary benefits.
For instance, Iberico ham's high protein content makes it ideal for building muscle so nutritionists recommend it for the underweight or for pregnant women.
On the other hand, the high levels of Vitamin B make it a good choice for those struggling to overcome depression or stress, or for periods of convalescence from injury, illness or an operation. Stomach problems can also benefit from Iberico ham's high degree of digestibility.
Iberico ham: a health food
This is not an optimistic or wishful view: rather, it is the opinion of medical professionals whose multiple studies in recent decades all point to Iberico ham as a food that can offer significant health benefits when consumed as part of a balanced diet.
Protected Denominations of Origin of Iberico Ham
There are many factors involved in certifying the Denomination of Origin of an Iberico ham. These ensure that that the breeding, feeding and curing of Iberico hams has been performed under the strictest quality standards. Let's find out what they are!
Denomination of Origin of Iberico ham: commitment to quality
Iberico ham is subject to a system of quality control promoted by the European Union since 1992, which is used as a method to identify and mark exclusive agricultural products that must come from a specific region, or that require special knowledge.
Iberico ham is covered by the DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin) scheme which is designed to protect and guarantee the quality of products that come from a specific geographic area and which have been produced using specific local specialized knowledge.
It's a way fo preserving for the future both the label and the skills of traditional delicacies against cheap imitations and protecting the transmission of traditional skills.
Iberico hams hanging
Why Denomination of origin?
The objectives of the Denomination of Origin of Iberico ham scheme are threefold.
First, the scheme aims to diversify production in areas where agriculture is the biggest driver of the economy.
Secondly, it protects producers from fraud and misappropriation of trademarks or descriptions, meaning they can't be undercut, driven out of business or forced to compromise by having to compete with cheaper, less scrupulous businesses exploiting the Iberico name.
And thirdly, it means consumers enjoy greater transparency, and know more about what they're buying. In Spain there are four types of Denomination of Origin for Iberico ham: Dehesa de Extremadura, Guijuelo, Huelva and Los Pedroches.
In all cases, the quality seal awarded by the regulatory Board has to be easily visible for quick identification, so you know exactly what you're buying and you can be sure of its quality.
4 Gourmet denominations
Each Denomination of Origin of Iberico ham follows a quality standard that refers to the curing time, the purity of breed of the pigs whose meat forms the basis of the ham (it must be at least 50% Iberico, and it must be the result of breeding with a 100% Iberico female, to prevent gradual dilution of the breed), the type of cutting practiced and the organoleptic (sensory - color, flavor, scent) properties of the final product are also assessed, as is chemical composition and the weight of the animals used.
Overall, there'sno real difference in quality between the four Denominations of Origin: all are equally high, and they're consistent across almost all parameters, ensuring a level market where the only real difference is the geographical origin of the pigs.
DOP Dehesa de Extremadura Protected Denomination of Origin: Dehesa de Extremedura
The Denomination of origin for Iberico ham of Dehesa de Extremadura refers to strictly 50% or above Iberico pigs, as described above, which have been bred and raised in the cork oak and oak forest pastures of Cáceres and Badajoz, in the counties of Sierra de San Pedro, Gredos, Sierra Montáchez, Ibor-Villuercas and Southwest Badajoz.
These Spanish hams are characterized by a slightly salty flavor and a very pink soft flesh with a pleasing aroma and beautiful flavor.
Protected Denomination of Origin Los pedroches
The Los Pedroches Denomination of Iberico ham is limited to a particular climatic zone north of Córdoba, and here the producers of 32 municipalities can obtain the quality seal of this DOP.
Spanish hams from this area are characterized by having very little fiber and very bright fat, with a pink flesh and an explosively intense flavor on the palate.
Guijuelo Denomination of Origin
Protected Denomination of Origin Guijuelo
The Denomination of Origin for Iberico ham from Guijuelo requires that pigs have been bred, reared and fattened in various regions of Zamora, Avila, Segovia, Cáceres, Badajoz, Seville, Cordoba, Huelva, Toledo and Ciudad Real, although the area they must be processed is smaller, restricted to just 77 municipalities of Guijuelo south of Salamanca.
Spanish hams with this designation have a salty sweet flavor with a very intense aroma, the result of long maturation. They present an intense pinkish color and golden fat tones.
Protected Denomination of Origin Huelva
Finally, the Huelva Denomination of Origin for Iberico hams refers to pigs raised in pastures in the areas of Huelva, Cádiz, Sevilla, Córdoba, Málaga, Cáceres and Badajoz, and they must be processed in one of the 31 municipalities of the Huelva region of La Sierra.
Usually these will be narrow hams with an elongated shape and a grayish-white exterior. Once opened the meat is pinkish and of excellent, delicate flavor.
Production Areas of Spanish Ham and Iberico Ham
Spanish Ham is a food that's present in virtually every Spanish household, regardless of the specific culinary traditions of regions and individuals. Let's look at the most important areas ham actually comes from, though - the parts of the Iberian peninsula where ham and Iberico ham is actually made.
Spanish ham: A national heritage
According to AECOSAN, there were more than 18,000 establishments involved in the production and processing of ham in Spain in 2013.
AECOSAN went on to report that in Spain, 31% of all meat products consumed are ham and pork. While that's crucially important from an economic point of view, it also reinforces the place of ham as a centerpiece of Iberian cuisine.
Without going into the various grades of quality that are available on the market, it's obvious that areas with more producers are to be found in the areas with the best pastureland.
In Spain that means looking around Salamanca, Extremedura and Andalucia, which together account for up to 40% of registered producers. This finding could lead us to think that 40% of the hams sold in Spain are premium, acorn-fed Iberico, but as we'll see, this is far from true.
Iberico or Serrano?
Throughout Spain, there are some areas whose main economic engine is pork production but which are not producing Iberico products.
These are to be found in Aragon, Castilla y Leon, Murcia, Castilla La Mancha, Catalonia, Asturias, La Rioja, and Navarre, as well as in specific provinces like Granada, where Trévelez and de Teruel ham is made, both protected by the DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin) scheme.
The Spanish hams produced in these regions come mostly from white Duroc pigs, and generally these major production areas exhibit some common features: a dry climate with low humidity and cool nights, suited to curing hams, is the main one.
The only regions that do not have ham factories and drying facilities are the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands, as well as the provinces of Lleida, Alava and Guipuzcoa, where other types of sausages and meats are produced, which have gone some way towards making these areas famous gastronomically in their own right.
Returning to the major provinces of Iberico ham production, it's important to note that not every ham from these areas is of the same quality, but Iberico ham can only come from these provinces.
As a result, the provinces themselves tend to specialize in quality, and AECOSAN reports that 94% of the hams sold in these areas are Iberico hams, made with pork from at least 50% Iberico pigs.
Not only must the pigs be 50% Iberico but they must be first-generation hybrids whose other parent, the sire,must be 100% Duroc.
However, many of these pigs are then fed on modern diets or on a hybrid feeding regime that includes both modern feeds and traditional pasturing.
Therefore, the majority of these pigs don't go on to become the Iberico ham that makes the world lick its lips. In fact, the law governing the production of Iberico ham is very strict and traceability is built into the production process to prevent fraud and preserve the good name of Iberico ham.
There are four DOPs (Protected Denominations of Origin) covering the areas of production mentioned above: DOP Guijuelo, DOP Dehesa de Extremadura, DOP Huelva and DOP Valle de Los Pedroches.
It's important to remember we can only speak of acorn-fed Iberico ham if the animals are Iberico, and have been reared and fattened exclusively on the 'montanera' feeding regime, which consists entirely of free range grazing on traditional mountainside pastures, resulting in a high proportion of acorns in the diet, influencing flavor, texture and nutritional content.
Don't be fooled: look for the "100% acorn-fed Iberico" label, and offer your guests a Spanish ham like none they've ever tasted before!
Spanish Ham - Machine cut or Hand cut
This is a question that for many may seem obvious: we all expect that hand-cut ham will be superior to the machine-cut article. That's especially so if we're devotees of Iberico ham. But why is that the case?
Spanish ham: Hand-Cut or Machine-Cut?
The six million dollar question: the truth is actually that many people prefer Spanish ham that has been cut by machine, because it easier and faster to consume.
However, if you're looking to fully exploit the culinary qualities of Spanish ham it's best to cut it yourself or buy hand-cut ham. The price is slightly higher, but it's well worth it.
Many experts say that hand-cut ham retains its organoleptic properties better than machine-cut. But they also point out that there's an aesthetic quality to the way the Spanish ham is cut, and that to watch a master ham cutter gives you some insight into this and is a pleasure in itself besides.
You yourself can develop enough expertise to successfully cut your own Spanish ham by hand, though be warned: it does require practice!
Why by Hand?
The biggest problem with machine cutting is that it generates friction and heats the cutting surface, which in turn heats the Spanish ham. This affects the taste and does not differentiate between the various different parts of a ham slice.
The heating of the ham via the hot blade can affect the nutritional qualities of the Spanish ham also.
A master ham cutter in action
A good hand-cut ham is sliced in a firm yet gentle way, by sliding the balde across the Spanish ham to produce thin and exquisite slices.
This is undoubtedly one of the great secrets of the world of ham, and if you've ever had the chance to try it you'll know it's true: you notice the difference when Spanish ham has been cut by a specialist. When it melts in your mouth, when the flavors are drawn out and intense., you know you have a master ham cutter to thank.
The truth is that there are many high-quality cutting machines that are capable of cross-cutting ham, respecting the natural path of the muscle fibers and resulting in a superior product - for a machine-cut slice, anyway.
Many even say that the heat generated not only doesn't adversely affect the Spanish ham, but actually enhances it. Clearly, personal opinion is the most important factor here.
A ham-cutting machine
Remember that the presentation and the company make the Spanish ham more attractive, too, and cutting ham by hand makes for a ritual that can make it feel better even if it doesn't technically taste better. And let's not forget that the most important thing isn't hand-cut ham: it's great ham.
A 100% Iberico ham from a respected producer is your real guarantee of success.
Museums of Iberico Ham Worldwide
Proof of the worldwide prestige of Iberico ham among the ranks of the world's gourmets is the increasing number of museums of Iberico ham both in Spain and in other countries.
The possibility of enjoying the best Iberian flavors in locales dedicated especially for this purpose is hard to refuse, so here's some important information!
Museums of Iberico Ham? What For?
Sometimes, it is suggested that the Spanish don't themselves properly appreciate their culture and cuisine. The fact that Iberico ham has global recognition and is highly in demand on the tables of countries all over the world doesn't by itself preserve the heritage and history of iberico ham.
But with museums of Iberico ham springing up in country after country, it's easy to see that a consciousness of the importance of tis culinary treasure is pushing many to create restaurants and museums dedicated to Spanish ham, where you can taste the very highest quality ham on the market.
Museums of Iberico Ham in Spain
In Madrid, there is already a large network of museums of Iberico ham, with five locations that are already part of Madrid's urban landscape.
These are located in Gran Via, Alcala, Atocha, Marcelo Usera and Escoriaza, where you'll find a wide variety of Iberico products and cheeses served on boards and as snacks and where you can also enjoy some of the culinary specialities of Spanish cuisine.
Museum of Iberico ham in Madrid
Barcelona has several branches of Henry Thomas, where you can find products from the world-famous supplier, but also a lot of information on Iberico ham and many other Iberico products.
You'll find Jamón Jamón, El Rincón del Jamón and the 5 Jacks restaurant, which also has sites in Madrid, Seville and Lisbon.
Another of the most recognizable museums of Iberico ham is in Aracena, in Huelva, which is an important center for the Iberico pig for Spain and the rest of the world. Here you can taste the best hams of the region, but there is also the opportunity to observe the processes that lie behind all those gourmet Iberico hams.
There are guided visits to pastures, as well as to the facilities of some nearby producers. This comes highly recommended for those who want to deepen their knowledge of Iberico products.
Museums of Iberico Ham Abroad
In other cities where Spanish cultural influences are strong, there are museums of Iberico ham. you'll find one in Mexico City, for instance, with a restaurant serving a wide range of Spanish cuisine including Tapas and Paella as well as Iberico products.
Museum of Iberico ham in Buenos Aires
Finally, Buenos Aires is home to several museums of Iberico ham where Spanish ham cuisine of the highest level is promoted. Also located in the center of the city in Puerto madero is a store and museum where you'l find the highest-quality Iberico products on offer.
Besides these ambassadors of Spanish cuisine, every day more Iberico hams are exported to countries around the world, which is only possible thanks to the ever-growing demand for high-quality Spanish Iberico cuisine.
Inside Secrets of Iberico Ham Tasting
Iberico ham tasting has become a feature of competitions all around the world. In turn this has facilitated the emergence of professional tasters whose skillful palates and knowledgable descriptions have formed the basis for learning how to enjoy the organoleptic (sensory) qualities of Iberico ham to the utmost.
At the end of the long, laborious process of breeding, rearing, fattening and slaughtering Iberico pigs and the skilled traditional craftsmanship that goes into every ham, there's the reason for it all: Iberico ham tasting.
This will help to establish the value of the batch of hams and so it's a vital consideration of the producer, but it also has cultural value.
If you're interested in really getting the best out of your Iberico ham, it's a good idea to have at least a basic idea of the language and phrases used, so you can take full advantage of your senses and capture every nuance!
The importance of appearance in tasting Iberico ham
Sight is the first sense that is involved in the tasting of an Iberico ham. We can observe and discern by its shape alone if we have a quality ham: is it elongated?
Does ity have a dark hoof? Is it slim-boned? Is there some mold and a grayish exterior? All these go to reassure us that we have a top-notch ham before us, one that will be a treat for all our senses. Therefore, tasters pay a lot of attention to the appearance of the piece.
Once you begin peeling the Spanish ham, you can see the first layer of yellowish fat, a result of the curing process. As you begin to prepare the piece for slicing, you can see a lot of white fat attached to the muscles themselves, which owes its presence to the "montanera" (mountainside) feeding regime and is a clear sign of quality. If the tone of this fat is pink, then we're not just looking at any Spanish ham, but the very best of the best.
The lean flesh of the ham also suggests many good things. Usually a good ham will have an intense bright red or pink color, because of the effect of the intramuscular fat and the crystallization of amino acids on the flesh.
When tasting Iberico hams, experts ensure that they are able to pick up on the nuances of taste that give a special personality to the Iberico ham. We can refer especially to the recently discovered sixth taste, "Umami" which literally means "deliciousness" but refers to the rich, savory flavor we associate with great meat products.
Iberico ham ready for tasting
The importance of appearance in tasting Iberico ham
Sight is the first sense that is involved in tasting Iberico ham. We can observe and discern immediately if we have a quality Iberico ham, based on shape alone.
We're specifically looking for a ham that's elongated, with a black or dark hoof, somewhat thin bones and some superficial mold. These are all signs that we're looking at a really great ham. Without doubt, expert tasters pay attention to the appearance of hams like this.
Once you begin to open the Spanish ham, you can see a thin layer of yellowish fat due to the curing process. As you begin to prepare the piece for slicing, you'll see a lot of white fat attached to the muscles, the result of the acorn-based "Montanera" (mountainside) feeding regime.
If this fat has a pink appearance, we can be sure that we are holding a Spanish ham of the very highest quality.
The appearance of the lean flesh also has a story to tell us. Usually, a good Spanish ham has pinkish or red flesh, because of the action of the intramuscular fat. We can also observe crystalized amino acids deposited on the lean meat.
Tasters work to ensure that they are able to appreciate all the subtle nuances of an Iberico ham, including the discovered "Umami" flavor, which we find in rich tasting meat products.
The next phase of tasting Iberico ham takes place in our noses: the aroma of the ham tells us much about it and is a pleasure in its own right.
Factors that result in a great scent from an Iberico ham include time and environmental factors involved in the curing process as well as the breed of pig and the "Montanera" feeding regime.
Another very important point is the saltiness of the ham. If this is balanced, we will have a ham with a more nuanced flavor that isn't overwhelmed by the salt. Lower salt content also tends to produce a better, juicier texture.
An explosion of flavors on the palate
Our pleasure at the flavor of a great Spanish ham is great but it must not be allowed to overwhelm our critical faculties if we're to fully enjoy it: much of the pleasure of a great ham is in the nuances.
We also need to remember to pay attention to the texture of the ham, even as the flavor competes for our attention.
First, we look for juiciness, which is the result of a balanced fat and salt content. By contrast, Spanish ham tends to dryness if the ham has been cured for too long a time, and the upper part is typically dryer than the lower part anyway.
Finally we should think of the amount of fiber in the ham. A high-quality Spanish ham will tend to be less fibrous, less chewy, and will often have a smoother texture.
A slice of Spanish ham
There's another matter taking place on the palate. At the same time as you're assessing the texture, you're discovering the taste. Very salty hams are one-trick ponies: that's all you can taste. But with a good Iberico ham, there's a wave of subtle flavors including sweetness and Umami, all interrelated.
Iberico ham tasting notes
“Bellota”, or "acorn": At room temperature, you can taste a flavor of acorns in the meat.
“Salado”, or "salty": As mentioned above, this is regarded as a positive attribute as part of a balanced flavor, but a negative one when it's overwhelming.
“Dulce”, or "sweet": A very particular flavor that is often found in hams that have been hung for long periods in cellars according to traditional methods.
“Picante”, or "spicy": this flavor should present itself in moderation, so as not to overwhelm the rest of the ham. Spiciness is often found to appear to accelerate the curing process.
“Rancio”, "rancidity": in very small quantities is considered by some to be an interesting note, adding interest to a ham, but in large quantities is regarded as the lowest to of tasting notes.
In general, notes that are considered positive for hams include burnt sugar, hints of wine, flavors of nuts like acorns, walnuts or hazelnuts, and negative flavors are usually said to include mustiness, fishy flavors, or excessive moistness.
Tourist Trails for Iberico Ham Aficionados
Although perhaps Iberico ham tourism might not be the first thought everyone has when looking for a holiday, it's actually both fascinating and well-catered to in the lands of Iberico ham. In each of Spain's prime Iberico regions you'll find at least one Iberico ham trail where you can learn the secrets of this delicacy.
Let's find out where they are!
What do Iberico ham trails offer?
The short answer would be, "everything to do with Iberico ham!" The truth is that if you decide to travel an Iberico ham trail, there will be opportunities to learn everything about how this amazing delicacy is made.
You'll see the pastures, and learn first-hand about the beautiful, unique ecosystem that both sustains and is sustained by the Iberico ham industry. You'll also get to meet the pigs themselves, and see these unusual animals in their native environment before they go on to become some of the best sausages and hams in the worlds.
However, taking an Iberico ham trail doesn't just mean seeing one part of the process. Many producers will invite you to their headquarters and show you around their facilities, letting you see the slaughterhouse, the drying rooms, the maturation process, all up close.
In addition, you'll get the chance to participate in some of the tastings they offer and learn the secrets of cutting, tasting and "maridaje," or "pairing" ham with other foods and drinks in the traditional way. It's an experience that combines nature with knowledge, learning and sensory pleasure.
One of the main attractions of an Iberico ham trail is the natural world in which it takes place. The pastures on which Iberico pigs are reared are part of a unique ecosystem that exists in symbiosis with the Iberico ham industry.
Without ham, the pastureland would have changed out of all recognition; without the pastures, the high quality of Iberico ham would be impossible. It's home to an entire culture and way of life, with farming techniques, grazing patterns, working rhythms and ways of living that revolve around Iberico ham.
Pigs in the pasture
On an Iberico ham trail, you can meet the forests of oak and cork oak that exist in harmony with the Iberico pig, the region's other main natural inhabitant.
Iberico pigs have ben bred here for centuries and they and the pastures have adapted genetically to each other. There's also an enormous cultural heritage in the region, represented by the wealth of castles, medieval buildings and the twin traditions of cork and coal production.
The secrets of production
The third ingredient for quality hams is the knowledge accumulated over centuries and handed down though generations of craftsmen.
Without it, Iberico ham would be imposible, and certainly would not be the living cultural artefact it is. If you travel any Iberico ham trail, you'll see the whole process, including the famous curing sheds.
You'll also be welcome in the wash room, where the surface salt is removed from Spanish hams before being hung to cure, and the drying room where they undergo their final preparation prior to being hung for curing.
After maturation, master ham makers carry out the tests that will allow them to determine whether the Spanish hams have reached the optimal cure for consumption.
Without a doubt, on an Iberico ham trail, you'll have the chance to enjoy some of the very best sliced ham available anywhere. You'll often find it accompanied by a historical anecdote or tall tale, or some curiosity regarding the world of Spanish ham.
The senses must be awakened to take full advantage of the best Iberico ham, so start with sight before you even take a bite and appreciate the shape and color of a great ham, the intense flavor and the juicy, melt-in-the-mouth texture.
Slices of Iberico ham
Moving onto scent, and then finally taste, it's possible to involve all five senses in the pleasures fo great ham. There's no better time to get started in ham tasting than right now!
However, knowing how to appreciate great ham is not everything. It's also necessary that the ham be cut skillfully, and on Iberico ham trails master ham cutters are on hand to show you how to do this like an expert, teaching you what tools you need, the right positions for your hands and body, where to start and finish cutting and what the slices should look like, and how to consume and store your Spanish ham.
A range of choices
The various municipalities contain ham producers who have worked hard to reach out to Spanish ham lovers from all over the world and show them the way in to the world of Iberico ham.
The Jabugo trail, for instance involves 31 municipalities in the DOP of Huelva, where several producers, farmers, hoteliers and restaurateurs, as well as hotels, inns and tourism information centers, are open to the public. The Montáchez trail, with 19 villages and a centuries-long history of prestigious ham making, also has many hotels, restaurants and information centers.
The Los Pedroches trail, meanwhile, runs through 31 municipalities in the Cordoba province, and takes in some of the best preserved pastureland in the entire peninsula. The final option is that of the Sierra de la Badajoz trail, running through 33 villages of Iberia's most entrenched ham culture, where you're likely to run across local ham competitions and tastings, as well as where the biggest ham fairs and events occur.
Without a doubt, then, the best way to find the people who can open up to you the world of traditional Iberico ham is to follow an Iberico ham trail and discover the secrets, passed from generation to generation, that made Iberico ham what it is: one of the world's most prized delicacies!
Acorn-fed Iberico ham and the ideal pairing
Iberico ham is a gourmet product, so it makes sense to enjoy it with foods and drinks that complement its flavor. Many experts recommend paring certain types of foods or drinks with Iberico ham to achieve the best match.
In Spanish, this is a traditional skill known as "maridaje," or "marriage" - though we'll be referring to it as "pairing." So what are the ideal pairings for Iberico ham? Read on and find out!
Iberico ham and wine pairings
According to the definition offered by the RAE, the word "maridaje" means "marriage," but it also means "unity" or "things the bind or correspond with each other."
Many experts now prefer the term "harmony," though "maridaje" has tradition behind it. In the case of acorn-fed Iberico ham, a wine tradition rooted in Spanish culture becomes the ideal accompaniment to Spain's signature ham dish, and in restaurants it is therefore important to pay attention to the sommelier, who will be very happy to recommend the best wines to accompany each course.
Acorn-fed Iberico ham with wine
The sommelier belongs to a profession that requires mastery of a little art and a little science to produce a craft, allowing him to find the best combinations for each dish. His advice will take into account the organoleptic properties of the foods, such as taste, aroma and texture, in addition to its properties when mixed with different beverages.
The specialist knows what these properties are and selects the best option for a perfect dining experience, bringing as intense and innovative a combination of flavors to the diner as possible. Iberico ham, with its high gastronomic value, is no exception. Here are some general rules to follow to find the perfect pairing:
Rules of pairing
The art of pairing is part of a long tradition in Spain, in which Iberico ham and red wine have gone hand in hand for generations. New scientific knowledge allows us to go beyond tradition and address the reasons why this or that pairing works so well.
According to the most widely accepted classification of the culinary scene there are nine types of wine with well-defined characteristics: sweet, Reserve red wines, Grand Reserve red wines, old red wines, young red wines, pink or rosé wines, dry woody wines, natural dry wines, sparkling wines and fortified wines.
A range of red wines
After many years of testing food parings and combinations, the world at large has reached several conclusions.
Amongst these is the assertion that acorn-fed Iberico ham combines excellently with several different types of wines, giving always different but always interesting results.
As a general rule it is accepted that salty foods go well with fresh-flavored alcoholic beverages such as white wines and beers, but Iberico ham goes well with other, bolder drinks like full-bodied reds too.
Ideal companions for acorn-fed Iberico ham
Many years ago it was widely believed that drinking sweet wines with Iberico ham was healthy. Therefore this was accepted as the ideal combination, almost on faith.
We now know that there are no particular health benefits attached to this combination and in fact it isn't very good from a taste perspective, because the sweetness of the wine tends to drown out the subtler flavors of the Spanish ham. In fact, this is one of the worst possible pairings!
There are two possibilities with young wines. On the one hand, young wines with body are often a poor choice because they mask the flavor of the Iberico ham, making them a less-than-ideal pairing.
However, lighter young wines are a great choice, because they complement the freshness and nuance of the flavor of the Iberico ham perfectly.
On the flip-side, young white wines are often overwhelmed by the Iberico ham, meaning they're not an ideal pairing either. Reserve red wines often have great personality, but despite this can be a great pairing with Iberico ham, because the two flavors reinforce each other.
The two biggest flavors in Spanish cuisine, oddly enough, sit side by side just perfectly!
A glass of Cava
When we speak of sparkling wines, we have to differentiate between sweet, unstable and sugary wines which are a very poor choice with Iberico ham, and those which are drier, like Champany or Cava.
These latter wines enhance the flavor of Spanish ham, reinforcing its subtlety. Fortified wines, on the other hand, despite their strength and powerful flavor, are also a perfect pairing with Iberico ham because their penetrating character enhances the flavor of the ham and its durability on the palate.
Finally, many would argue that beers are a perfect accompaniment to Iberico ham because their bitterness combines perfectly with the intensity of the flavor of the ham. Beer, Cava, young wines, light whites and fortified wines are therefore the ideal pairings for Iberico ham.
The Production Process of Iberico Sausages
If you go into any Spanish home, one thing you'll almost always see is a selection of cold Iberico sausages. Known in Spanish as "Embutidos," these delight the whole family from the youngest member to the oldest. They're an excellent choice for dinner, a snack or as part of a meal for school or work. However, all sausages are not created equal!
Why iberico sausages?
Choosing Iberico sausages means choosing a quality and flavor like no other - and they're healthier too! The secret to both the flavor and the health benefits of Iberico sausages lies in the quality of the animals they come from.
Iberico sausages must be made from pork from at least 50% Iberico pigs which must be either purebreds or first-generation crossbreeds. Fed on a traditional diet and raised according to the highest standards of quality, it's no surprise that the result is something remarkable.
Production of Iberico sausages
Iberico sausages are one of the most obvious and widespread signs of Iberico culture, as well as being one of the most valued meats in the world. Abroad, they're recognized as a uniquely Spanish delicacy with a centuries-long tradition of culinary excellence behind them, while within Spain they're both a common food and a delicacy, the way only a native food can be. They're consumed alone or with bread, and the different Spanish regions produce local specialities.
Slices of Iberico chorizo
The basic raw materials for creating Iberico sausages are lean meat, fat, salt, and paprika, with garlic sometimes used too. Once the animal has been butchered a specialized worker will select the meat and fat by hand and weigh and monitor it to ensure quality.
The meat is then passed through a mincer and kneaded to ensure even distribution, before being mixed with the other ingredients and left to stand at 4°C for about 12 hours. While all this has been happening, intestines have been carefully cleaned and prepared for use as casings.
The meat and flavorings will be stuffed mechanically into these casings and the chorizo is now ready - apart from one thing. It looks like a chorizo, but it will need to be hung in a warehouse for three to five months to cure before it's ready to pass muster as a true Iberico sausage!
Preparation of Iberico loin sausage
Next to Spanish ham, Iberico loin is one of the keynote meats of Spanish cuisine and Iberico loin sausage is much sought-after amongst gourmands. To make an Iberico loin sausage, the loin cut is first removed from the animal and rubbed down with salt, and left to stand for a couple of days.
Next, it's cleaned and the surface salt is striped away, and the meat is bathed in olive oil, garlic, paprika and oregano and left to marinade for two to four days before being minced, stuffed into casings and hung in a cool,dry place for a period of between 60 and 90 days to reach the desired degree of cure. The result is a tasty sausage of unusual quality, widely considered a gourmet treat!
Slices of Iberico sausage
Cured loin sausage is a variant of Iberico loin sausage. A traditional cure is followed, using only saly with no dyes or additives of any kind, and the typical curing time is long - as much as 150 days. This procedure is only performed with loin of the highest quality, and as a result, Iberico cured loin sausage is considered to be one of the bright lights of Spanish cuisine.
Preparation of Iberico cured loin sausage
To prepare the sausage, the basic technique is identical to that employed in making other Iberico sausages. The secret is in the details! The selection of meat and fat, for instance, is just the same. What differs is the herbs and spices used,and the fact that cured loin sausage is boiled prior to curing.
Black pepper, salt, coriander and nutmeg are used in a traditional Iberico cured loin sausage, and the meat mixture is left to marinade for about 24 hours before being left to stand for as long as 40 days, though some producers like to smoke it. After this, the sausage is boiled for a couple of hours in water containing bay leaves, cloves, onions and pepper, before being stuffed into natural casings to be subsequently cured in a cool, dry place.
Plate of Iberico sausage
As we can see, the quality of Iberico sausages is determined by the quality of the meat as well as the exquisite care and traditional craftsmanship that go into making the finished article. The best brands keep their secrets close to their chests, while being constantly monitored for quality, so a major brand is a great choice to make sure you're getting the best Iberico cuisine has to offer.
History of Iberico Sausages
To understand the historical origin of Iberico sausages, we need to look back across centuries of Iberian history as a slow process of development occurred across the peninsula. It's quite likely that the Iberico ham we know today is the most important gastronomic heritage we have from ancient times, predating even classical antiquity.
It's impossible to think of Iberico sausages and ham without thinking of salt. It's known that the use of salt dates back at least to the 3rd millenium BC in Egypt, though it's probably even older. The discovery of salt was a revolution in food because it allowed for preservation with much more flavor. Prior to this, it was only possible to preserve foods by smoking them, which didn't make for nuances of aroma.
Once the technique of salt preservation reached the ears of Iberian herders and traders, it took off in a big way!
Iberico sausages: famous the world over
The first document we have that mentions Iberico sausages - pernae, in Latin - was written by Cato in the third century BC. Cato described the procedure for curing hams and sausages in some detail, discussing salting, marinating and curing practices similar to those we see today.
It's clear that the ham culture Cato was describing was new to him, but already ancient to its practitioners, and we know that to the ancient Celtic inhabitants of the Iberian peninsula, pork was one of the most highly valued table meats and had high economic value.
Spanish hams curing in a cellar
Later documents make clear that ancient Romans were great fans of Iberico sausages and ham, and regularly consumed Iberico sausages and hams from the Iberian peninsula with great relish.
After the fall of Rome, it turned out that the Visigoths, too, were partial to ham, and with the arrival of Christianity, ham and pork products generally took on new significance, being forbidden to the two main other religious groups in the Iberian peninsula, Jews and Muslims. As a result of this division, pork butchers were sometimes elevated to the status of defenders of the faith!
Chorizo lightens up
Other sausages like chorizo, salami or loin sausage show up in ancient texts to: we can find references to them in Aristophanes, for instance. However, they did not become truly popular until the sixteenth century, when previously unknown spices from the East began to arrive in Spanish ports,including pepper and paprika.
Paprika, a vital ingredient in many Iberico sausages
It is from this moment that Spanish chorizo began to stand out from the similar products of other countries in Iberia. The innovative flavor, aroma and red color that accompanied the use of paprika as a major ingredient meant that these products became much sought-after. Regions also began to diversify and specialize, each one being famous for its own unique sausages, something that is still true today.
There are numerous historical anecdotes referencing the popularity of Iberico sausage, including one about Alfonso XII who was passionate about Iberico salchichon and always made sure to buy several kilos whenever he was in Vic.
New discoveries, new flavors
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of devices such as the grinder and stuffer, together with the discovery of techniques to improve the preservation of raw meat and other materials, the Iberico sausage industry was transfigured. Most of the change was in quality rather than speed, however, since it's impossible to make a real Iberico sausage fast! If the traditional steps aren't followed, the result simply isn't up to standard.
A grinder and stuffer for making Iberico sausage
In fact, scientific and technical advances have allowed producers to create ever-better sausages. Partly this is due to scientific study of traditional methods, enabling producers to streamline and focus their methods on the practices that work the best. Now, from field through slaughterhouse to sausage, the best combination of species, time and seasonings are known far better than before.
However, it's still the traditional curing process that makes an Iberico sausage the product that millions love all over the world and a hallmark of Iberico culture.
VAT and Spanish Ham: Frequently Asked Questions
How many people wonder about the rates of VAT on Spanish ham? What is the law about ham products and VAT? Is it different for shoulders and hams, or for other Iberico products? All your questions are answered below.
What's the law on VAT and Spanish ham?
The Spanish government is currently discussing reforms of the VAT rules that could seriously adversely affect the whole sector, and drive up VAT across the board. For now, though, the only rules you need to worry about are those dating from the last round of reforms in July 2012. These laid out the rules as they apply to meat products, including all Iberico ham and meat products.
VAT and Spanish ham
Currently, all pork products are subject to the same tax rate. This is laid out in the document (Spanish Language) 'BOE 312, Article 91,' published December 29, 2012. Ths sets a 10% rate of VAT on Spanish ham for both domestic and export purchases. Thus we can see that the VAT on Spanish ham, whether it's acorn-fed or recebo, shoulder or ham, cut or whole, is the same as that levied on all other foodstuffs in the same category.
This VAT on Spanish ham is the same in all EU countries, so whether you're buying from the Iberian peninsula or anywhere else in the EU, the rate will be the same. That's very positive for the expansion of the meat industry, with a level playing field across the EU. Iberico ham is the jewel in the crown of the EU's meat industry, and a VAT regume that enlarges its market helps everyone.
Thus the doors are open to put Iberico ham on British, French and German tables as well as Spanish ones. That can only be positive for increasing the prestige and renown of Spanish ham products, building a reputation across the continent for this delicacy.
However, the VAT rules don't put Spanish ham in a 'premium' category all by itself. Instead, it's in the same category as necessities and less prestigious products. This, too, is a positive step: not only does it lighten the burden on the purchaser, but it helps to cement in the minds of Europeans the idea that Spanish ham is a part of everyday life.
In the case of home delivery through Internet sales platforms, VAT is the same as any other purchase method. All that's required is to add the cost of transport, which is calculated based on distance and the weight of the package.
Overall, the percentage paid is smaller than that paid in a store or supermarket, so it's the best way for many of us to enjoy great Spanish ham, as it's more affordable and available over a wider area, with far greater efficiency and convenience.
Spanish Ham in Great Spanish Literature
As we have already seen, ham is deeply ingrained in Spanish popular culture. A product that has occupied a central place on the tables of the entire peninsula for centuries, today Iberico ham has become part of the backbone of Spanish identity. When you dig a little into the literature of the Spanish-speaking world, we can quickly find references to ham - and not just in the recipe-books!
Ham in the Literature of Antiquity
It is difficult to set a specific date defining the starting point of Spanish ham culture. Certainly, techniques and ways of life of the ancient Iberian settlers produced something like ham long before anyone used the word "ham” in a text!
But if we stick to the documents, the first to mention ham was Cato, who lived in the third and second centuries BC. In his De Agri Cultura, Cato establishes the first recipe with all steps for the development of this product, including how it should be salted, washed, dried, dipped in oil, smoked and conserved.
A menu including ham, from Pompeii
Later, in the first century AD, Strabo refers to hams in his Geographica after a trip through the peninsula. According to him, the Kerretanoi, an Iberian people who inhabited the Western Pyrenees, "produced excellent hams, comparable to the Cantabrians".
Ham and the Golden Age
The Golden Age of Spanish letters left lots of references to ham, at a time when the pork industry was becoming popular throughout the peninsula and a good ham was the ideal companion for any traveler. This fact is reflected in an abundance of references to ham in the literature of the time.
For instance, in La Celestina, Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla says: "There’s enough in the pantry not to fall into starvation: white bread, Montviedro wine and an ham...". The poet Baltasar de Alcazar also cites the ham in the poem Three Things as one of his three favorite things in life besides his beautiful Agnes and eggplant with cheese.
La Celestina - Tragicomedy of Callisto and Melibea
The fame of the ham-producing regions that today produce the best products is expressed in works of such renowned authors as Cervantes, who in his The Fraudulent Marriage recommends slices of Córdoba ham to cure a convalescent. The same applies to Lope de Vega, in his Epistle to the Accountant Gaspar de Barrionuevo where he refers to Huelva hams: "Spanish ham from the famous Sierra de Aracena.”
Ham and Contemporary Literature
In the year 1958, two Spanish literary giants crossed paths. One, Rafael Alberti, was an exile from Franco’s regime. The other, Nicolás Guillén, met him in Buenos Aires after fleeing the Machado dictatorship in Cuba and then the fascist occupation of France.
Portrait of Rafael Alberti
As a token of appreciation, Guillen gave Albertia ham and with it, a sonnet, which Alberti duly answered. The result was a feast of ham, in which several common friends shared a bohemian wedding, reading each other’s sonnets, all on a rainy day.
More recently we can include Camilo José Cela’s comment about ham, which explains that it can be enjoyed through smell, but also by sight and taste. "It has a characteristic of blessed bite", states his strong praise of the ham.
These small fragments serve to get an idea of the importance of this precious delicacy in Spanish society, through their great writers. And in the words of a traditional Spanish saying: "Put me in the sun and give me wine and ham!”
Curiosities of Iberico ham
The presence of Iberico ham in pantries, kitchens and restaurants throughout the peninsula comes as no surprise. This flagship of Spanish cuisine has become one of the preferred snacks, lunches or foods for big celebrations or intimate family dinners, but do we know all about it? Here are some curiosities of Iberico ham.
Modern or Traditional?
We are used to see how the modern world likes to invent new products disguised as tradition. But Iberico ham is far from that. This is demonstrated, for example, by the fossilized ham that was found in an archaeological site of ancient Tarraco (Tarragona); Iberico ham is the gastronomic legacy of more than two millennia.
If this is not enough, we can review stories and recipes, finding that Iberico ham is mentioned in texts from the second century BC and appears in documents written by characters such as as Pliny the Elder, Columela or Cato. One indisputable fact is clear: the ancient inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula were experts in breeding pigs and the ham they produced was highly valued throughout the Empire.
Further confirmation of this fact is the prestige of pork butchers. In the early years of pork production, slaughter men and butchers were usually slaves, and were usually also the cook. Gradually pork producers rose in the social scale, and during medieval times, this figure was becoming increasingly important as character sought and respected by all.
Why Are Hams Hung?
Another curiosity of Iberico ham. Have you ever wondered why ham is hung? In bars and restaurants as well as in specialty stores, you’ll find Spanish hams and other meats, hanging from hooks in the ceiling. How come? According to some historical sources, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries this practice began among local small Christian producers. Hanging hams in the entrance to their shops became a way of saying "I am a Christian" as a kind of flag to differentiate themselves from Muslims and Jews and thus avoid trouble with the authorities at the time.
But let's be pragmatic. It’s not difficult to imagine a producer of Spanish ham with experience and observation who realizes that if the ham is supported on a surface during the drying and maturing process, the result is not entirely satisfactory. More mold, less perspiration … if only there was a better way.
This is the best explanation: the hams are hung for adequate ventilation and, with the help of gravity, to remove excess moisture and fat. Have you ever seen those little plastic hats placed just below a hanging ham? That’s where all the moisture seeping from the Spanish ham is collected.
A “Tapa” of Ham!
What could be more Spanish than ham tapas? What is the relationship between the two? Oddly, Spanish ham has much to do with the origin of the term "tapas" which has become today throughout the world for a culinary concept inherent to Spanish gastronomy.
The etymology of this word sends us back to the Middle Ages and the reign of Alfonso X. When the King was undergoing a period of convalescence his doctor told him to drink wine, but to add a covering or hat - "tapa" in Spanish - to ameliorate its intoxicating effects with a small portion of food.
This idea, that to avoid getting drunk alcohol should be accompanied by some food, was spreading and becoming increasingly popular among ordinary people. This is demonstrated by the law enacted by the Catholic Kings, by which the bartenders were forced to serve some cold cuts and bread to reduce the effect of wine and beer. Shortly before this, a remarkable episode occurs.
According to the story, King Fernando VII stopped at a tavern in Cádiz where he was served a glass of sherry. The strong wind characteristic of the area had raised up a storm of sand from the local beaches, and the King asked for a wine glass - covered, for protection, with a slice of ham. He ate and then ordered another, and another.
This practice was spreading slowly, and in subsequent years, it became the norm that every glass of wine would be served with a "cap" of ham. This is just one among many curiosities of Iberico ham found in our history.
How to Store Your Serrano Ham
Serrano ham is usually eaten over a long period of time in small amounts, as a daily snack or for a treat, so a single ham can last many months. That means that if you're to get the most out of it, you need to know how to store your Serrano ham so that each slice delivers the full flavor and aroma.
First, you must carefully follow the cutting directions, the most important of which is that you should only cut the ham you plan to eat immediately. Cut ham is far harder to store and preserve, so if you want to know how to store your Serrano ham, that's the first step to take. Once you've begun cutting into your ham, you need to treat the area where the cuts were made slightly differently,and there are things you can do to preserve leftover slices too.
One effective method is to keep the first layer of skin and fat that you removed to get to the flesh of the Spanish ham, and replace it over the cutting area. It was once popular to impregnate the exposed surface with oil and paprika, but while this preserves the ham it alters the flavor, aroma and texture so it's less popular now than it was. The ham's own fat keeps the meat and the flavor.
Another option is to cover the Spanish ham with a cloth or a woven sack and hang with the hoof facing upwards. For convenience, many people store their hams horizontally on ham holders or even shelves, but it's far better to let the fats flow with gravity if you can (this is the reason behind the little upside-down plastic umbrellas you sometimes see underneath hams).
Covered in this way, and hung in a cool, dry atmosphere where the temperature is between 10 and 18 degrees Celsius (the ideal environment in a winery, incidentally), your Spanish ham will be in the best possible condition for you to enjoy its flavor. It's very important that you don't use plastic to wrap your ham, since it needs to be able to breathe or it will molder. If it's a long time between making cuts you should cut away the surface layer of your ham, which will tend to spoil if it's left too long, with the meat becoming hard while the fat acquires a rancid flavor.
As we mentioned above, you should cut only the number of slices that you plan to eat that day. It's better to cut a few short and have to cut more than to have leftovers. Once cut away from the ham, slices will tend to harden in just a few days and go stale. There are ways to preserve leftover slices so that, while they will never have the flavor and mouth feel of fresh-cut ham they will remain in a more or less acceptable condition. If you have too many slices, you will need to store them on a refrigerator (though not without a plate).
You should cover the Spanish ham in plastic wrap, making sure there is no air inside the plastic. You're trying to get as close to a vacuum as possible, to stop the molecules that give the ham its flavor from oxidizing. In fact, many people prefer to buy ham ready-sliced in vacuum packaging for convenience. In either case, it's important to remember that before eating them they should be exposed to the air at room temperature to recover as fully as possible their original organoleptic properties. Remember: store your Serrano ham in good condition to enjoy its unique flavor!
Regulations and the Quality of Serrano Ham
Serrano ham is one of Spain's most widely-eaten foods and the product that most clearly announces the country's national cuisine on the world stage. In themselves these are already good reasons to protect the market and ensure the quality of Serrano ham.
But because everyone associates the name with quality, there are always those willing to misuse it, unscrupulous producers trading on the implications of a name they have no right to use to seal an inferior product. Consumers have a right to be protected from this.
With these issues in mind, in 1992 the European Union created a system to monitor and certify the most important agricultural and food products from member countries. They created several labels that would identify products that had been produced and processed according to strict regulations to ensure quality and make sure that products being sold as the results of traditional processes really were what they said they were.
The name of Serrano ham is one of the products that is protected by these regulations, being recognized under the Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) scheme since 1998. This certification does not protect the origin of products as a DOP designation does but it does require certain techniques of rearing, production and processing. Any Serrano ham you see has to comply with these rules.
The regulations state that Spanish ham should be drawn from the hind legs of pigs only - meat from their forelegs is called "shoulder" - and should follow a set of guidelines concerning slaughter and butchering practices.
Pork should have a traceable provenance and the feeding regime should be wild pasture and grain. Weights, times of breedings and a minimum pre-slaughter fattening period are also stipulated. If a ham is to be labelled Serrano ham, it must also comply with regulations on its curing environment.
These regulations, decreed in 1998 by the Ministry of Agriculture, establish strict quality standards for Serrano ham. For example, a ham must weigh no less than 9.2kg, the thickness of its outer layer of fat must not exceed 0.8cm and the curing period must be no less than 210 days in a low-humidity environment.
Once the drying and curing process is complete the Spanish ham is ready for consumption, but rules apply here too. Serrano ham must present a pinky-violet appearances, neither too dark nor too light, and bright fat and a juicy texture. Quality hams don't require much salt so a delicate flavor with relatively little salt is also a mark of quality.
To ensure that the legislation is effective, producers must keep documentation that tracks pigs from birth through to retail, and only after being checked and audited by the authorities is the coveted TSG certification given, guaranteeing the quality of Serrano ham.
However, in addition to the TSG mark there is another scheme that guarantees the quality of ham to an even higher standard. This is the Protected Denomination of Origin (DOP) scheme, which in the case of Serrano ham requires that the ham come from either the Trévelez or the Teruel regions.
There is currently a campaign underway to put some Spanish hams under the Protected Geographic Origin (IGP) umbrella, particularly the famous Seron ham. Finally, an ecological label is awarded to hams produced in a way that is environmentally caring and fed a special, strictly-controlled ecological diet.
All these schemes have one thing in common: they all seek to protect producers of Serrano ham from unfair competition and to make sure consumers have honest information about what they're buying. That way,when you see the name Serrano ham, you know exactly what it is!
Preparation of Serrano Ham
We have seen the importance of breeding and feeding regimes to the quality of Spanish ham. The preparation of Serrano ham is also crucial, and may actually be the most important part of the business of making ham!
When it comes to scent, nuances of flavor and aroma, and the degree of salt, curation and so forth, it's all down to the preparation process. To make a leg of pork into Spanish ham, all you really must have is salt and a long time to let it cure. But it takes much more than that to turn a leg of pork into a quality ham. Let's look at how that's done!
It's clear that the preparation of Serrano ham can be aided and augmented by high technology, and all the factors in play can then be controlled with far greater precision. The most prestigious producers of Serrano ham are in Teruel and in the provinces of Granada and Almeria.
Typically, producers will begin work on a pork leg which is reared, slaughtered and butchered elsewhere before being delivered to them, though some producers have their own slaughterhouses. On receipt, the producer will check that the meat meets the statutory requirements to qualify as Serrano ham - that it weighs over 9.5kg wet, for instance.
Once a producer has verified that everything is as it should be with the raw material, the meat is taken to the salting room and salted with sea salt and nitrous salt that helps to desiccate it slightly, reducing its moisture content and speeding the curing process.
This also helps to preserve the pink flesh tones that are so characteristic of Serrano ham, and hams are sometimes left in the salting room for as much as two weeks, depending on factors such as their weight, the amount of fat on the ham or the thickness of the piece.
The environmental conditions in the salting room are strictly controlled, with temperatures never falling below 0°C or rising above 4°C, while humidity is kept at a steady 80%.
Once the salting is complete, the Spanish hams are brushed and washed thoroughly to get rid of any excess salt from their surfaces. After this, they are allowed to stand for at least 40 days to allow the salt that has already been absorbed to distribute itself throughout the meat evenly and to allow the ham to acquire personality, without the intrusion of mold or other issues.
The resting room is kept in conditions similar to those i the salting room.
After this, the Spanish ham is ready to move to the drying and curing room. This is perhaps the most crucial period,lasting more than 100 days and clearly defining the best quality ham.
The piece will be hung in a well-ventilated room whose temperature will gradually increase as the days go on, starting at about 6°C and rising to 34°C with a humidity of around 80%. As the temperature rises, the ham undergoes a slow process of exudation,gradually acquiring all the properties of flavor, aroma and appearance that we associate with the best Serrano ham.
The final step in the preparation of Serrano ham is the aging or curing cellar. This is a complex matter that is usually decided on the personal opinion of an expert rather than by any formula, and it's one of the factors that affects quality and price the most.
Curing time acts almost like an index of quality. Consider that Bodega Serrano ham is usually aged for between 8 and 11 months, Reserve for 11-14 months and Grand Reserve never less than 14 months.
So we can see that the true secrets of making fantastic Serrano ham aren't secret at all. On the one hand, it's about the traditional knowledge of skilled craftsmen working in a way that's based on experience and expertise, and on the other it's the appliance of a little science to the fact that sometimes, good things come to those who wait.
Denomination of Origin of Serrano Ham
The reputation of Serrano ham is established internationally. The vast majority of Serrano ham's deserved reputation for quality is down to the careful selection of the best pigs and the traditional craft techniques used in the production of Serrano ham.
That's why we have the Denomination of Origin of Serrano ham: Serrano ham was an obvious candidate for inclusion in the Protected Denomination of Origin (DOP) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) schemes, designed to ensure that the whole process of production and processing follows the rules established by the European Union and the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture.
It's also intended to ensure that consumers are protected from misleading advertising and dishonest information.
True, the first place on the Spanish ham podium goes to Iberico ham, but that doesn't mean Serrano ham should be left out in the cold (figuratively speaking, of course!).
Serrano ham is produced and processed using methods and materials that are just as rigorously controlled as those used for Iberico ham. For example, white pig breeds are selected just as carefully as the black Iberico pigs, though more breeds are allowed: Serrano ham may be made from Duroc, Large White or Landrace, which can be mixed with Iberico pigs but no other breeds.
There is also strict control over the types of diets the pigs must be fed. Modern factory farms feed their animals all kinds of things: Serrano ham comes from pigs fed grains and legumes.
The Denomination of Origin of Serrano ham also includes all factors related to the production process. Weights, times and foods must all be taken into account. The preparation techniques involved are also carefuly monitored.The DOP seal on a Serrano ham is a seal of success as well as a guarantor of quality, proving that traditional crafts skills are still producing a superior product.
For Serrano ham, unlike Iberico ham, there is a second type of certification available. Known as IGP, for Protected Geographical Indication, this works just like DOP except that pigs can have been raised in a wider range of places and still qualify.
Let's find out what DOP and IGP mean for Spanish Serrano ham:
- IGP Trévelez Ham: Also known as the hams of the High Alpujarra, because they originate in elevations above 1, 200m, these Spanish hams are made in the province of Granada, specifically in Trévelez, Bubión, Capileira, La Taha Bérchules, Pórtugos or Juviles Busquistar. Hams can only qualify for this IGP if the pigs come from these areas and are of the breeds listed above.
Curing times for these Spanish hams range from a minimum of 15 months for younger hams right up to 24 months for the largest. The hams have a rounded shape and the meat is characterized by an intense red coloration and white-yellow fat. Pieces should weigh between 7 and 9kg, and many experts agree that this is typically the sweetest Spanish ham on the market, owing to a low average salt content.
- PGI ham Seron: Serón ham is produced in the town of Seron, Almería, although pigs can be raised elsewhere. In this case the Landrace , Belgian White , Duroc , Pietrain , Chato Murciano and Large White breeds are accepted. These hams are unique in that once completed the curation time, they are smeared in lard to facilitate preservation.
This is the hallmark that differentiates them from other hams. Regarding the appearance, they also have a rounded shape and weigh at least 7 or 8 kg depending on the category. The salt content is low (5%) and when you cut their meat, it has a bright reddish color that mixes with translucent fat. It has a very particular and recognizable aroma and a very sweet taste.
- DOP Teruel Ham: Duroc, Landrace and Large White pigs supply the meat for these famous Spanish hams. Teruel ham was the first Denomination of Origin of Serrano Ham granted in Spain, and is therefore one of the more treasured traditional foods. It covers producers located in the province of Teruel, which is characterized by the cool, dry climate of a mountain area.
All pigs must be at least 8 months old at slaughter and weigh at least 110-130kg, and hams usually weigh between 8 and 9kg. The piece is easily recognized by its elongated shape with a rounded end. Like other Serrano hams, these have a relatively low salt content, meaning the flavor offers sweet nuances. The meat of a good Teruel ham should be a strong red, with bright fat. If you're not sure, look for the logo with the word Teruel and the shield.
Nutritional Properties of Serrano Ham
Serrano ham is a highly valued food for its flavor and aroma, known internationally as a delicacy and a key component of the Mediterranean diet. But as well as its status as a gourmet food, not everyone knows about the nutritional qualities of Serrano ham. These are varied and can make an invaluable contribution to health, so we should find out more about what Serrano ham can add to your diet!
As interest in traditional diets has increased in recent years, studies into Serrano ham have revealed some interesting facts. The investigation of the nutritional properties of Serrano ham reveal that while ham is a great source of lipids, vitamins and proteins, it's also a great way to get several essential minerals.
Containing iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and calcium, Serrano ham is aso rich in Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B6 and trace amounts of Vitamin D, as well as others. Vitamin B1 is especially useful in combating depression and stress, when eating more of this mineral can positively affect the brain'chemistry and make coping easier.
On the other hand, Serrano ham is a food that shares many properties with olive oil, because of the similar nature of their lipids. Almost half the fat in a Serrano ham is unsaturated and the main fatty acid found in Serrano ham is oleic acid. In fact, only two foods are a better source of oleic acid: Iberico ham and olive oil.
Because of this high oleic acid content, eating Serrano ham can help reduce LDL(Low Density Lipid - "bad" cholesterol) content in the bloodstream, and experts believe it can raise the levels of HDL - the "good" cholesterol. Also, the intake of Vitamin B2 can have positive effects on plasma cholesterol numbers.
Another feature of the nutritional properties of Serrano ham is that it allows high levels of protein assimilation compared to other foods. It's a food that's far more easily digested, because of the lower levels of collagen and because of a chemical reaction that takes place during curing.
This reaction breaks down proteins into their constituent amino acids, making them more easily digestible and bioavailable. Because of this feature, Serrano ham is a beneficial food for patients recovering from surgery, and for people with digestive difficulties, as well as being a highly valued food in the diet of breastfeeding women and as an aid to the growth of children and adolescents.
Furthermore, eating Serrano ham can help reduce the chances of osteoporosis, because of its high iron content. Nutritional experts recommend eating foods that contain both plenty of iron and plenty of calcium, since uptake of these peaks at different stages of life and both are essential to bone growth.
Another feature of Serrano ham is its high zinc content, which contributes to the intellectual and motor development of infants. Because of these effects, Serrano ham is a good addition to the diet of a pregnant or breastfeeding mother.
However, it's important to note that even though Serrano ham has far less sodium than many other Spanish hams it is still a high-sodium food, so people who are already eating too much sodium or who are disposed to suffer hypertension should monitor their intake. The table below lays out the nutritional information for typical Serrano ham.
Serrano ham nutrition information
Per 100 grams
Knowing the nutritional properties of Serrano ham allows us to appreciate the dietary benefits of this traditional food and to see how taking to the Iberian diet can help our health. Eating Serrano ham regularly, but never in excess, will allow you to both fully enjoy this delicacy and reap the nutritional benefits.
Recipes With Serrano Ham
Serrano ham is widely recognized as one of Spain’s great culinary contributions to the world. A few well-cut slices of Spanish ham are always a safe bet. But if you prefer a creative touch that will surprise your guests, you can try these simple recipes with Serrano ham. Here are some of the easiest:
Melon with Serrano Ham
A summer favorite. Simply slice your ham (or buy machine cut ham) and enjoy it with slices of ripe melon. This classic combination of sweet and savory is one of Spain’s oldest recipes and is a firm favorite at family events, weddings and meals with friends. The original recipe, featuring slices of melon and ham slices, can be left untouched or altered to suit. Try chocolate coated melon ham or even cold melon soup with ham shavings.
Bread with tomato and ham
: This is a classic in Catalonia, gradually being established in the rest of the peninsula.
The original recipe is prepared with rustic bread. The bread should be cut into slices and spread with a ripe tomato, then sprinkled with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt, and it’s ready. You can choose to toast the bread and spread with garlic before the tomato. You can also prepare other mixtures and spread the slices of bread later. Either way, it will be delicious!
Endive With Serrano Ham
: This is a dish that’s a little more elaborate. First, clean the endives, and then cut slices of Spanish ham. Boil the endives, then use them to coat the ham. A delicious variation is to put cream cheese
(e.g. Roquefort) into the mix, or to roll endives with Spanish ham and broil the whole parcel for a few minutes.
Asparagus With Serrano Ham
: This is prepared similarly to the endives. First, boil the asparagus, or alternatively, grill or bake. Then wrap them in Serrano ham. It's a delicious combination of two dishes that are full of personality. You can also broil if you like croquettes.
Croquettes With Serrano Ham
: Probably the recipe with Serrano ham
that finds most favor with gourmet palates. Admittedly it's a bit more work to prepare than the other recipes here, but there’s no doubt that it’s worth it. There are many ways of doing these, but you can start by sautéing a little onion and/or garlic in oil, and add the adding cubed or chipped Serrano ham. Next, add flour and milk gradually and stir continuously to avoid lumps. It's time to spice up and add salt. You can use nutmeg, pepper, parsley, whatever you have on hand or prefer. This way you get the dough. Then there is only allow to cool. A method for accelerating the process is roll the dough on a tray. It can also help you to cut into roughly equal pieces, then shape the croquettes. Once done, roll in breadcrumbs and fry in oil.
Peas With Serrano Ham: A quick and easy recipe with Serrano ham. You can use cooked peas or cook them yourself at home. Saute onion, garlic and a little pepper and then add Spanish ham, cut into small cubes. Splash in a little red wine, and you only need to add the peas and mix well to blend flavors. You can turn this one quickly into a jumble by simply adding an egg or two.
Types of Serrano Ham
The centrality of ham in Spanish cuisine becomes obvious when you look at the great variety of producers scattered throughout the Iberian Peninsula. Indeed, one could say that there are many types of Serrano ham as there are regions and towns in Spain. Obviously there are hams and hams: the less and the more and more expensive, some more juicy than others.
Let's review the different parameters used to classify Serrano hams. First of all, though, it should be stressed that Serrano ham refers only hams made from Ibérico pigs, usually Duroc, Landrace and / or Large White, although some may have been crossed with an Ibérico pig. This is definitely the main distinctive feature compared to Iberico hams.
The production area is one element that gives the most prestigious Serrano hams their cachet, and the truth is that we associate certain geographical areas with quality. The key to this identification is, on the one hand, the extensive experience of local producers, who can implement the knowledge passed from generation to generation, and, on the other, a mountain climate suitable for drying helps ensure success .
For this reason, traditional producers of Serrano ham are covered by the certification of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), which includes all the national territory and regulates all the necessary parameters to ensure quality (fat thickness, minimum weights for slaughter, production processes, etc.).
These are the most important factors:
- Trévelez Serrano Ham: This occurs in several localities of the Alpujarra, including Trévelez. It is one of the most famous types of Serrano ham. Cereals are the staple food of these pigs, following the guidelines established by the IGP. These Spanish hams are characterized by their rounded shape and typically weigh between 7 and 9 kg. The meat has a deep red color and in tasting, the dominant notes are sweet due to low salt content.
- Teruel Serrano Ham: A total classic. Not for nothing was this the first Spanish ham to receive the Designation of Origin label in Spain. These hams are produced in the province of Teruel, in any zone that is over 800 meters above sea level. The hams have a round profile with a strong hip and elongated leg, usually weighing more than 7kg. Good hams of this type are slightly salty and sweet, with a bright pinkish color .
- Seron Ham: Originates in Almería and was recently included in the IGP registration. Usually a large, high-fat ham. Good examples are saltier than the other types of Serrano ham, while still offering a smooth texture and a sweet predominant flavor. One aspect that stands out is the wide range of aromatic flavors and aromas found during tasting.
These are the 'true' Serrano hams, but we must remember that many different hams are produced throughout the peninsula. For example, it would be a shame to neglect Avila ham, Murcia flat ham, the Pyrenees hams, Cañiza ham and many others.
The IGP regulates drying times and processes, which are the same for all types of serrano ham which are granted certification. Across types of Serrano ham, the major difference will be the change in quality brought about by curing time. Therefore a Spanish ham will be:
- Bodega: with a cure time between 9 and 12 months.
- Reserva: (Reserve) a curing time between 12 and 14 months.
- Gran reserva: (Grand Reserve) a curing time of more than 14 months.
These are the best Spanish hams to be found in the market. The longer curing time allows hams to develop nuances of aroma and taste, and therefore guarantee of success.
Pairing of Serrano Ham
The pairing of Serrano ham refers to the classification of the drinks that best accompany this delicious Spanish cuisine. To do this,experts use a combination of art and science, leading to a particular practice which is generating growing interest among lovers of good food. Therefore, events based around 'maridaje,' or pairing, of good Spanish ham with fine wines and other foods are occurring more often in Spain and around the world.
By pairing, Spanish people mean finding a balance between two elements. For example, in the pairing of Serrano ham you'll find drinks complementing the taste of ham or accompanying it, allowing a smooth tasting of this delicacy. For example, in the Spanish culture there is a historical relationship between wine and Serrano ham, since both are key elements in all the regional cuisines.
In fact, in Spain we enjoy a wide variety of wines thanks to the significant presence of wine production in disparate rural areas, so experts have many possible combinations to offer a unique dining experience for lovers of Serrano ham.
Wine and Serrano Ham, Friends Forever
However, it should be noted that the most common pairing in the culinary culture of a country, or the one that is based on a historical relationship between two foods, is not always the best option. That's why experts in pairing Serrano ham seek to discover what drinks are ideal for each of the types of ham.
The aim is that both products accentuate each other's flavors, resulting in a harmonious taste experience, or that they respect each other, ie, that one does not overshadow the other's presence on the palate of the diner. The increased interest in the practice of pairing results in the progressive specialization and optimization of rules and parameters, so that today it is possible to classify the appropriate companions for Serrano ham in terms of these parameters.
If we choose just the right kind of wine to go with our Serrano ham, the pairing will be successful. But this is not easy, since there is a wide variety of both types of ham and wine.
For example, young red wines are an excellent choice for the pairing of Serrano ham from the Grand Reserve group, since the lightness of the wine gives prominence to the intense flavor of this type of Spanish ham, while offering new shades and nuances of taste.
On the other hand, there is a unanimous opinion among experts regarding fortified wines, such as manzanilla, which are considered one of the best choices for pairing with Serrano ham. This type of pairing offers a pungent flavor that accentuates the delicious nuances of Serrano ham, and is probably the most acclaimed choice among experts.
If you want to experiment with a more unusual pairing, try accompanying your Serrano ham with a glass of chilled champagne. It is a wonderful choice for summer days because the power and nuances of Serrano ham works so well with the freshness of the champagne, bringing contrast to the combination. Both elements of this unusual pairing retain their own identity in a harmonious relationship, a unique taste experience.
For red wines, aging and reserve must be carefully considered, because some of them may have a personality too strong for pairing with Serrano ham. But a Serrano ham with a strong presence, such as a Gran Reserva Trévelez, can be found to work well with an aged red wine. The high presence of tannins in well-aged Grand Reserve wines may result in an envelope of flavor that exalts certain nuances of the Serrano ham.
Finally, it is essential to refute the popular belief that sweet wines, sparkling whether or not they are a good choice to pair the Serrano ham. Currently experts consider this type of wine as the worst candidates for the pairing of Serrano ham, because of the high concentration of sugar, which dull the flavor intensity of the ham.
Something similar occurs with rosé wine or many young whites, especially those that are fruity and aromatic, as they often impose their presence, relegating the flavor of the Serrano ham to the background and resulting in a disappointing pairing.
How to Consume Serrano Ham
There's no great mystery about how to consume Serrano ham in the best possible condition, but it does pay to keep a few things in mind. Undoubtedly one of the most important factors is the temperature, which should be between 20 and 25°C, so that the Spanish ham retains and transmits all its organoleptic properties: appearance, texture, flavor and aroma. At these temperatures the fat is ripe for mixing with lean ham and makes it much more juicy.
Serrano ham is often served sliced, for which some skill is required. Ideally, the slices are thin and not too long. Clearly, if the Spanish ham is not good there is little to be done, but it is also true that well-cut ham gains in the cutting and badly-cut ham loses a lot. So this last step is important. In almost every case hand-cut will be superior to machine-cut, so it's worthwhile to learn how to cut your Spanishham safely and well.
The main reason has to do with the mechanical friction between the meat and the cutting instrument. When ham is machine-cut, a high-temperature disc is in contact with ham. The heat from this can even modify the flavor and cause loss of nutrients.
However, by cutting by hand with a good knife, the smooth but firm movement of the knife blade allows the cutter to get the very best form the ham, and preserve all the nutrients (remember that Spanish ham is rich in vitamins E and B).
The most common way to present Serrano ham on the table is with the slices on a plate, preferably arranged in a harmonious and attractive way to cover the entire surface.
It is always best to cut only what is to be consumed at the time. In this way we ensure that the Spanish ham is as juicy as possible and that the organoleptic properties are preserved. Remember, the best way to preserve the slices is to not cut them until you need them!
The traditional way to consume Serrano ham is to accompany it with bread and wine or beer. In some places it's traditional to prepare bread by spreading it with with tomato, or to or accompany Spanish ham with with drinks like fine wine, manzanilla or cava.
What's interesting is that because Serrano ham has such a high content of umami (rated as the fifth taste), it is also an excellent ingredient in all kinds of recipes. Many of these are already traditional, such as melon or pineapple and ham, or ham croquettes, and all are very easy to prepare.
How to Cut Serrano Ham | Carve Serrano Ham
The art of cutting Serrano ham is leading the cutter, someone with good hand knives aroused admiration among the guests. Knowing how to cut serrano ham is a skill that requires knowledge, practice and a particular skill set indispensable addition to every good cutter tools.
The art of cutting Serrano ham is easy to learn and a lifetime to master. A good cutter adds much to the ham, which is why those with particularly fine skills are admired and sought-after in traditional Spanish culture. To cut good slices of Spanish ham yourself all you'll need are some basic skills and the indispensable minimum of equipment.
A good ham holder tops the list of materials needed. The support will be the basis on which the hind leg is placed to cut more comfortably and safely. There are a wide variety of models of ham holder from which to choose, but the most important factor is that it be stable and hold the Spanish ham steady.
Knives are another indispensable tool. There are three types of specialist knives used to cut Serrano ham:
Types of knives used to cut Serrano ham
A- Wide blade knife: sharp blade, wide but fairly short and stiff. This knife is used to peel the Spanish ham, remove the superficial fat and work in the area of a small carafe. It is used to prepare the piece before starting to cut slices.
B- Ham knife: its flexible, elongated, narrow blade must be very sharp to fulfill its function properly. The ham knife is used to make precise cuts that result in thin slices.
C- Carving knife: A robust blade, somewhat narrow and short. Used to work in the most complicated areas of ham, where the proximity to the bone leads to sharp angles that hinder precise cuts with a longer knife.
* Sharpening Steel: A steel utensil with which the knives are sharpened, known in Spanish as 'Chaira.'
How to Sharpen a Ham Knife
We do not recommend sharpening the ham knife with a whetstone. The tool indicated for this function is the sharpener.
The movement that's going to give you a sharp knife begins at the tip of the sharpener, where the base of the knife blade is placed. The blade is then smoothly slid in a diagonal movement, until the tip of the knife blade meets the handle of the sharpening steel. Note that the steel doesn't move, only the knife!
Wipe down the steel between sides of the knife, and coat lightly with a tiny amount of oil when you're going to store it for a while unless you know it's stainless.
How to Cut a Serrano Ham
Step 1: Prepare the ham
The position in which the Spanish ham is placed in the support depends on the number of slices you want to make. If you place it hoof upward, you'll find that it's best suited for large slices and for eating the whole ham immediately. If you plan to take several weeks to eat your Spanish ham, it is best to start cutting at the stifle, the thicker part of the leg, placing the ham hoof down in the ham holder.
After determining the position of the ham it is time to secure the support, with the spike sticking in the area corresponding to the hip, and properly adjusting the thumbscrews in the area of the hoof. It is advisable to place the stand on a sturdy table that allows the cutter to work with ease, securely and at roughly the right height.
Step 2: Peel the ham
In this step it is also important to predict how many slices you will need, because the size of the opening you cut will depend on this. If too large an area of Spanish ham is peeled, the meat will dry out and lose some of its juiciness and flavor.
The first thing you should do is remove the skin and the yellowish surface fat. It is possible that as the cuts are made you will come across moldy areas. These are part of the natural result of drying and ripening and cutting them away is sufficient: they do not involve any risk.
Step 3: Slicing
Once you have peeled an area of ham, you can start cutting Serrano ham slices. If you want to cut long slices, about six inches, you just have to make parallel cuts covering the area form the hip to the hoof. To get regular slices the same thickness, you'll need to carefully control blade angle and pressure and make parallel cuts.
Since the texture of slices changes, depending on the area they're cut from, it is advisable to combine slices from different parts of the leg so that the dish of Spanish ham is more tasty and varied. For example, near the knuckle the meat is drier, while in other areas of the piece slices are juicier and have more fat marbling.
To cut slices of the hip area, which will also be drier, you must use the appropriate tool, the boning knife. Vertical cuts should be made until it is possible to extract more slices. At this point you can always cut diced ham, ideal as ingredients for traditional recipes of the Iberian Peninsula. Remember that once you have consumed both sides of the Serrano ham (the hub and the stifle), you can use the bone to make soups and broths.
How to Cut a Serrano Shoulder
The steps described above are just the same when you're cutting a Serrano shoulder rather than ham. The only real difference is the placement of the bones in the piece.
The more bony, more complex shoulder requires shorter, more robust knives and there is a knack to extracting the best cuts from around the scapula where the meat is very juicy and flavorsome. Otherwise, there is little difference and you should be able to get a good result following the steps above.
All the Secrets of Pata Negra Ham Tasting
Anyone who has lived in Spain, or even just visited, will have heard the name of 'pata negra.' This is a popular and commonly-used term which isn't covered by any official restrictions, so anyone can use it. It's also ambiguous, and isn't the correct technical term for any specific type of ham. However, it means so much to ham lovers that they continue to use it amongst themselves.
Pata negra ham tasting has traveled far beyond the Iberian peninsula and has claimed its own special place in gastronomic celebrations around the world. Expert tasters gain cachet in the gourmet food scene, and the criteria for para negra ham tasting are well established. Therefore, we now have bases and steps that enable us to fully explore the organoleptic properties of para negra ham.
In the culmination of a living culinary tradition, every piece of para negra ham begins with the raising of pork and continues to the seasoning and curing of the meat. Tasting conducted by expert tasters decides the quality and gastronomic value of the resulting ham. This requires knowledge of the right steps to go through to properly explore the flavor and nuance of pata negra ham so that one can arrive at valid conclusions concerning its quality.
The first sense that comes into play when ham tasting is sight, not taste. Our first contact with the ham is via our eyes and the experienced ham taster can tell a lot about a ham simply by looking at it. If it is a quality piece of Iberico ham that has been well-pastured, we'd expect to see long, sharp hooves (a result of exercise and good nutrition), brown with black tones, and some mold in the hip area. This is an indication that almost always works perfectly when you're looking for a true para negra ham.
If you cut your own ham, or have the opportunity to watch a skilled craftsman do it, you can look to the color of the superficial fat. This is uncovered by simply peeling away the first layer of the outer surface of the ham. A yellowish color is a sign of a well-cured ham, so long as only the upper layer is yellowed. Under this we expect to find lean meat, usually a strong clean pink and marbled with specks of crystalized fat between the muscles. This fat makes a major contribution to the flavor of the ham, and only a traditional fattening regime, faithfully followed, produces it. The next step is the aroma. A good para negra ham should smell like one. This is one foolproof way to identify a ham that has been reared on acorns in open pastures, in a manner that patiently respects the time it takes to create truly great ham. Only this, combined with the traditional knowledge of curing and seasoning, can produce a true para negra ham, and we've said it before but we'll say it again: you can sniff one out!
After carefully looking it over and smelling it, it's time to enjoy a well-cu slice of para negra ham, the ultimate test of a ham's quality. To truly assess the quality of the ham, you must evaluate and measure several factors. First, you must test the texture of the slices, the level of juiciness: a good ham should be juicy,not dry in the mouth. This depends on drying time or maturation with a lower salt content than cheaper hams, as well as a high fat content. A para negra ham slice should unfold and fall apart gently in the mouth, with little chewing required.
But what about the subtle, nuanced flavor of para negra ham? First, we should mention the salty notes. These are due to salt added during the curing process, but they should complement the other tastes, not be overpowering. Then, you should notice a distinct flavor of acorns. This comes from the fresh acorns on which authentic Valdeorras ham was reared, and is a sign of great distinction that makes these hams stand out from those that do not come from acorn-fed pigs.
Despite the saltiness, you should expect a softly sweet taste from your pata negra ham, with spicy overtones, which gives its own account of a long period of maturation in a cellar. Although it's countrerintuitive, you'll often find that in the best para negra hams, both flavors are found wrapped in a slightly stale taste, which reinforces them and is considered a positive. This flavor is found only near the skin of the ham. But what about the subtle, nuanced flavor of para negra ham? First, we should mention the salty notes. These are due to salt added during the curing process, but they should complement the other tastes, not be overpowering. Then, you should notice a distinct flavor of acorns. This comes from the fresh acorns on which authentic Valdeorras ham was reared, and is a sign of great distinction that makes these hams stand out from those that do not come from acorn-fed pigs.
Choosing a Good Ham Holder
The figure of the ham cutter is a recognizable one at both high end restaurants and family gatherings, where there's always someone who stands out as a great cutter. While it's a place of high honor, it also makes one a target for criticisms. How are you going to start the ham there? You're slicing too thick... Of course there's no way to avoid criticism altogether, but the easiest way to reduce it is to have the proper skills - and the proper tools. First amongst these is a sharp ham knife and a shorter blade for peeling and cutting around bones. But knives are of little use without a ham support which allows you to cut smoothly without worrying about whether the ham is going to stay in place. There are a great many ham holders on the market, but they're not all created equal. It's not always easy to decide which one is right for you, so let's look at the factors you need to consider when seeking the perfect ham holder.
It Is Stable
It's crucial to ensure that the base of your ham holder does not slide around when you make your cut. The first factor affecting this is weight - if the ham and holder together weight many pounds this weight alone will hold the ham holder in place. But it's also desirable the the ham holder have rubber feet on its base to prevent slippage on wooden surfaces. Thus the base of the ham holder will be firmly anchored in place, preventing unexpected movements that could spoil your cut, or worse, cause an accident.
It Allows You to Cut Comfortably
To cut comfortably requires being able to cut at certain angles. It's always preferable that the ham should be held so that the cutter does not have to make cuts at awkward angles, increasing the chance of a poor cut or an accident. Additionally, as cuts are made, the surface of the ham changes shape and a good ham holder can accommodate this. A quality ham holder will have a grip, allowing rotary and height adjustment. Often the screw that secures the ham to the stand will be adjustable too so that both the stand and the ham can be moved, together or independently. As far as the height adjustment is concerned, the part of the ham holder to which the ham actually attaches must be extensible, allowing raising and lowering of the hoof. Not all ham holders have this feature, but many experts consider it helpful. There are other fastening systems, including tourniquet pressure, using two boards and a rotating handle that clamps the ham in place. Professionals typically prefer the so-called thumbscrews set-up though.
Storage and Transportation is Easy
It's true that many people choose to leave their ham holder set upend installed in the kitchen, instead of moving it around. Sometimes people will simply leave it in place with a ham in it, covered by a cloth. However, this can take up a lot of space in the kitchen, and some people ned to be able to travel with their ham holder, or only use it on special occasions. In these cases, the best option is to buy a ham holder with folding arms and a bag which you can use to transport it easily and comfortably.
It Is Made From Quality Materials
Obviously, not everyone has the same needs. Someone who cuts ham only rarely can get the right ham holder for a lot less than a professional or a ham lover who cuts ham every day. If you're an occasional ham aficionado, you might be able to get a perfectly adequate ham holder for €30. But for cutting a lot or often, you'll need to look at materials and construction to make sure your ham holder can last the course. Look for models that use stainless steel and solid wood, so that you avoid chipping, scratches and premature deterioration. There are also some very high quality plastic models which are very practical and look like new after cleaning!
Undoubtedly, this is related to the question of stability. Simply put, a ham holder with a larger base area will tend to be more stable. You should think about it relative to the size of ham you expect to consume, though: if you plan to eat ham only occasionally, you're more likely to buy smaller hams and shoulders and thus to be better served by a smaller ham holder. If you eat ham regularly, or if you runs bar or restaurant, though, you might need something with a long base so that you can accommodate a ham up to 12kg. You should also keep in mind that a shorter base can tend to tilt a ham more. While some cutters like that, most say that the ideal position for the ham is horizontal and that the ham holder's base should be longer to accommodate this.
Skewer and Clamp
Most types of ham holder have at least one vertical skewer in the area of the stifle. This is the easiest sway to fix the ham in place, since its own weight helps to secure it while it's being cut. You'll also find models with two skewers or three vertical spikes, especially where there's also a locking clamp for the hoof. However, despite their popularity,many cutters prefer not to use ham holders with skewers, which they say allow air in and damage the organoleptic qualities of the ham. If you choose to avoid skewers, make sure that your ham holder has a high quality locking system on the hoof.
Hygiene is a very important factor to consider. Your ham holder is a lifetime investment. To prevent oxidation of the metal parts, as we have said, all metal parers should be made from stainless steel. For the body of the ham holder, it seems obvious that plastic materials or Silestone, a mineral compound, would be wearier to clean than wood because they are nonporous and do not absorb any fat, which does tend to happen with wooden supports. This is a minor problem, though, and one that is little related to performance. Whichever base type you choose, it's important to clean the ham holder thoroughly every time the ham is changed, to avoid the growth of dangerous bacteria or molds.
As with almost everything in life, the price of a ham holder depends on the materials and craftsmanship with which it is made. It's true that you can find a ham holder for less than €20 that will just about work, but it won't last long, work well or look good. Ham is a high quality product and it makes sense to invest in a ham holder that lets you cut the way you want to for a long time. High performance and craftsmanship aren'\t prohibitively expensive,but there are a lot of models on the market and it can be hard to make up your mind. Here's a comparison of the most interesting models from Buarfe, Steelblade and Sagra to help you come to the right decision:
||Folding ham holder BUARF: made from pine wood and steel. Useful for cutting shoulders and smaller hams. Comes with a knife. Takes up little space because the main arm folds.
||Rioja Ham Holder BUARFE: Pinewood and steel construction. The surface has a polished chrome finish. This type of ham holder features a wheel through which the hop runs, putting pressure on the ham.
||Bodega Ham Holder BUARFE: Also made of high-quality pinewood and steel. Comes with four brackets to hold the ham just perfectly, and offers an ideal solution to cutting horizontally.
||Round Ham Holder BUARFE: Famous selected pinewood with three spikes. Steel fittings throughout. Adjustable sliding system for securing the hoof means it can accommodate hams of any size. While it means a steep cutting angle, this holder economizes on space.
||Folding Beechwood HamHolder BUARFE: The beechwood base is white, while the hardware is stainless steel. This holder allows very elongated horizontal cuts, whilst being easy toe tore because it is folding.
||Rioja Beechwood Ham Holder BUARFE:Made with white white beech and stainless steel, this ham holder uses a pressure anchoring system that allows you to incline the ham up to 45°.
||Rotating Jubago Ham Holder BUARFE:High quality 53cm table, made from white beech hardwood. Stainless steel skewers. This holder allows horizontal cutting into large or elongated hams, and the swing clamp system allows turning of the ham and lets the cutter fix and hold the hoof.
||Folding Roxon Jubago Ham Holder BUARFE: The base is made from the Roxon material that also features in countertops. It also features a rotating bushing system which allows you to turn the ham to change the cutting area. The skewers are stainless steel and the ham holder is folding.
||Elite Inox Ham Holder BUARFE: One of the best ham holders on today's market. The base is made of polyethylene and the fittings are stainless steel throughout. It has a system that allows you to place the ham in the ideal position for cutting, whatever the area of the leg, because the joint in the middle allows you to achieve any angle. Features rotating spikes at the bottom, and foldable rotary clamping sleeve.
||Ebony Ham Holder STEELBLADE: This is a professional quality ham holder with a high quality phenolic laminate wooden base. The spike can be moved to accommodate either a shoulder or a ham. Then clamping head is fully rotatable to admit a horizontal portion of any part of the ham. It includes a suction system that guarantees absolute anchorage.
||Evolution Turning Ham Holder SAGRA: The best in ham by the famous inventor Pascual Sagra. The base is polyethylene, and the swing arms are stainless steel. The tilting brake disc brake system is the key to this ham holder's ability to let you move the ham into any position you prefer. There is an ergonomic polyethylene plate where the fastening system is located. Silicone studs in the base prevent slippage.
What is the best para negra ham?
That's the million dollar question. The truth is that the quality level of Iberico ham in Spain is very high, and there are many competitors for the crown of best para negra ham. First of all, perhaps we should be clear what we mean when we say para negra ham, because not every ham is para negra. You can find a ham with a black hoof - literally, that's what para negra means - but that's no guarantee of authenticity because other breeds of pig than the Ibercio can develop black hooves.
What is certain is that the term pata negra has remained in popular use to describe the very best hams. This is so because, in fact, Iberico pigs do have a genetic predisposition to black feet! However, you can have an excellent para negra ham without a black foot too. For these reasons management has elected to cease using the term para negra in any official capacity.
However, anyone associated with the world of hams will immediately understand what you mean by pata negra. all experts agree that this designation is reserved for hams from pure Iberico pigs that have been fed solely on the traditional montanera feeding regime during the fattening period: 100% acorn-fed Iberico pork only. Only a ham that complies fully with the rules on breeding, fattening, slaughter and processing can be considered a true pata negra ham.
These hams are the stars of the Spanish gourmet industry. They can be identified by the black seal, awarded only to hams that have passed all quality controls, though an fan of acorn-fed Iberico ham can recognize it from its elongated profile and the characteristic aroma of acorns it gives off. A simple slice in the mouth will offer final confirmation:there's nothing else like it. Of course, this kind of ham carries a high price, resulting from the long, delicate process required to create it.
But what are the best pata negra hams on the market? Obviously there are hams to suit every taste, so it's tough to give the crown to just one. The first premise to start from is that everything from 100% acorn-fed Iberico sources is delicious, unless something unexpected has occurred during processing. Another clue is to look into the production area. Remember, only 100% acorn-fed Iberico pigs can produce a true pata negra ham,and they must be reared in Salamanca, Extremadura, Huelva and Cordoba. Look for the Designation of origin markers: DOP Guijuelo, DOP Dehesa de Extremadura, Huelva DOP or DOP Pedroches.
In the Guijuelo area, currently the Joselito vintage hams undergo 96 months of curing, producing a ham that is selected more carefully than any other and come from the finest specimens of Iberico pigs fed exclusively on acorns. This ham is one of the most stylish on the market, and will surely present a substantial layer of crust due to the long curing time. The meat is extremely red, wrapped and marbled with a soft white fat that is smooth and flavorsome on the palate.
The area covered by the DOP of Dehesa de Extremadura has for years been host to Albarragena Pore acorn-fed Manuel Maldonado, whose name honors the river that flows through the meadow where the pigs are raised. It is probably one of the world's most expensive hams, and one result of this is very strict traceability, especially since this is the only ham that is sold with a certificate of DNA purity guaranteeing that it is 100% pure Iberico. The maturation time is extremely high, about four years, and thanks to its low salt content it is characterized by a sweet flavor reminiscent of acorns.
Huelva has some of its best pieces selected by an agri-livestock business located in the valley of Los Pedroches, and finds its highest expression in its pata negra. Made by hand and subjected to a curing process of up to 36 months, it'safamily business to ensure that the hams cmd from 100% pure, acorn-fed Iberico pigs. the result is a unique product that has won its place at the top in various competitions on the strength of its flavor.
Finally, in the Sierra de Huelva, we have to make special mention of 5 Jacks. No ham has received so many awards as 5J. The reason? carefully selected genetic stock combined with the implementation of traditional knowledge in a modern setting, all centered on the perfect point of origin: 100% acorn-fed Iberico pigs, fattened large mountainside pastures and fed the traditional montanera diet. Kilns are also a key part of this process, since they are located in the middle of the Sierra de Aracena, where the climate is simply unbeatable for the drying and curing of hams. In their texture, appearance, aroma and flavor, they're bound to delight the palate of the world!
Is the term pata negra correct?
Sometimes the distance between the popular usage of a language and that imposed from above can seem unbridgeable. Something like this happens with ham. What most people actually say is "pata negra," because Iberico hams are distinguished in the public mind by having a black hoof. Over the years that became the most visible hallmark of Iberico ham.
That's the reality, but if we look at the Quality Act that was enacted in early 2014 the term is not one of the possible names. Under that law, only three types of designations are allowed to refer to Iberico ham, and these are set according to the type of feed the pigs receive during the fattening period. These are: Iberico de cebo, for a diet based on grains and legumes; Iberico de cebo de campo, for a diet based on both foraged foods and grains; and Iberico de Bellota, for a pure acorn and forage based diet.
The other important classification criterion of ham is the degree of purity of the pig, that is, what percentage of the pig's parentage is Iberico. The Iberico breed is the product of careful selection, carried out over centuries among the species sus scrofa, sus scrofa mediterraneus and sus scrofa vittatus, and the quality standard requires at least 50% Iberico genes. The other 50% must be Duroc, by a 100% Duroc male and 100% Iberico female pig, in order for the resulting hams to qualify as Iberico.
This brings us to the new identification system, based on colors. In this system, white indicates that the Iberico pig has been fed on a "cebo" diet, but the percentage of Iberico ancestry must be 50% to 70% and must always be indicated on the label. By the same logic, green means the pig has been fed the "cebo de campo"diet, while red indicates the animal was fed by foraging in the pastures during the fattening period and is a pure acorn-fed Iberico pig.
Pata negra ham is the acme of Spanish ham cuisine. In addition to its highly recognizable black hoof, though, true pata negra can be identified by other senses. The law recognizes that although these hams are known officially as "100% acorn-fed Iberico," and are labelled thus, the popular use of the term "pata negra" means high-quality 100% Iberico hams from pigs reared on acorns. A small concession from the law to the lore!
In fact, there's good reason for not making the term "pata negra" the official appellation. Based on the recognizable, but sometimes misleading, black hoof alone, many unscrupulous retailers and wholesalers were busily offering the public hams that may have had black hooves - patas negras - but were not true pata negra hams. Some hooves were painted black, smeared with charcoal, charred or scorched. We can shake our heads and chuckle,but the practice harmed the whole industry and traduced the reputation of pata negra ham. While most Iberian natives zoo discovered the deception, newcomers to ham were more often fooled - and put off pata negra ham by the experience.
Additionally, we should bear in mind that while the black hoof is known as the mark of the Iberico pig, it's unreliable Not all Iberico pigs have black hooves; not all black hooves are on Iberico pigs. Leaving aside the creativity mentioned above, black hooves are the result of random genetic variations and occur in other breeds too - just as eye or hair color can differ in a family.
In this sense, the law is extremely reasonable: it has found a way to accommodate the ambiguity without permitting the deception. However, pata negra is pata negra in the language and thoughts of ordinary ham lovers, Iberian or otherwise. It might not be written on the labels of the best hams, but then it doesn't need to be. It's etched into our collective unconsciousness, and we can continue to use it alongside the official labeling system that protects us from frauds.
Pata Negra Ham and Pasture
When we speak of pata negra ham, we're talking about the best ham in the world, drawn from 100% acorn-fed Iberico pigs. But not all Iberico hams are acorn-fed. Only a few, specially selected pigs are lucky enough to roam through the extensive Iberian pastures and enjoy all the resources they provide. Let's learn about the meadowland pastures where some of Spain's most fantastic ham originates!
The pastures may be the secret of Iberico ham, but it's a secret that's less well-kept every day. Now modern landscape science is brought to bear to ensure the survival of this delicacy. Meadow ecosystems characterized by mixed forests and grasslands, with oak trees predominating, are a feature of huge areas of the Iberian peninsula; the name in Spanish, "dehesa," refers to a large area of land set aside for farming purposes by new settlers in the Tenth Century. Typically these areas were in border areas abutting the former Taifa kingdoms of Andalusia, which were lands valued for their defensive properties and treated as a buffer zone.
Leaving aside the historical and etymological elements, the simple facts are that a t that time, the pastures were fairly bare, sparsely populated areas with a lot of oak trees. Gradually these were modified by the hand of man, introducing broad grasslands intended to support a larger population of farmers. Over time, these regions have become the only silvopastoral regions in the world, where large herds of Iberico pigs are fed and fattened in a totally unique environment to create a totally unique product: the authentic raw material for pata negra ham.
Certainly, one of the most important elements of this balance is the trees. Cork oaks and oaks grow on the fertile lands and contribute leaf fall to the richness of the soil and shade to a unique microclimate, as well as the acorns on which the pigs feed until they are ready for slaughter. This system is called "montanera," and occurs between September and February, when the acorns are ripening.
The rest of the year, the meadows are where the pigs roam freely, eating some acorns but also roots, grasses and leaves, shrubs and even small rodents. Commonly, pigs will go through a process of pre-fattening during which they develop the muscle mass that makes pata negra ham such a speciality product. Between the pasture and the pigs, a symbiotic relationship has sprung up, whereby both help each other. The pigs take the best resources but they also manure the forest and clear undergrowth and weeds, helping to keep the pastures in good condition. The whole delicate balance is preserved by men and women who keep, use and transmit traditional local knowledge.
But why are acorns so precious? What is it about them that makes them such an important factor in the process of breeding and development? It's simple: like other tree nuts, acorns are very high in fat, sometimes as high as 93%. This fat is largely oleic acid, with some good cholesterol. The result is that the ham is very healthy from a nutritional standpoint with many health benefits if consumed regularly.
The primary reason, though, is that when we think of ham we don't think of health food. We think of a delicacy, and the acorns the pigs are fed during the months before slaughter give both the lean meat and the fat of pata negra ham a taste and aroma unlike any other. It's the montanera diet in traditional pastures that give pata negra ham the taste, aroma and appearance that guarantee it the crown as the king of hams!
Therefore it's very important to preserve the traditional pastureland system intact. Without it, there would be no leisurely fattening period in open grassland and shady forests, only stressful, unhealthy intensive farming. Without the acorns to feed them on, there could be no true Iberico pigs - and no true pata negra ham.
The secrets of pairing pata negra ham
Spain is famous for its ham and its wine. The importance of these two customs is intertwined, spills over the national borders to the whole Iberian peninsula, and can be seen by just a glance at the national culture. But what is the best companion for a good pata negra ham? What wine will go best with a ham that has been carefully cured over a long period of time, derived from only the finest pigs?The answer to this question seems obvious.
Many will say, following obvious simple logic, that pata negra ham of the finest quality should be accompanied by a reserve or grand reserve wine, aged in an oak barrel for years. The reasoning is flawed, though: today, there are many alternatives, and this isn't necessarily the best. Being guided by tradition is fine, but there are other ways, just as good, to achieve a perfect pairing between pata negra ham and wine.
In Spanish, the art of pairing food and wine is called "maridaje," meaning marriage. But before you go looking for the perfect suitors, ask yourself this question: is the same pairing right for both sliced ham and diced ham? Generally speaking, the answer is yes, but keep in mind that the slices offer a much more delicate taste experience, so you can "marry well" with other drinks than red wine, though this certainly works perfectly as a companion for diced ham.
Most sommeliers and experts agree that the best pairing between ham and wine is with fortified wines, like Fino and Manzanilla. These wines are recognizable by great body and subtle flavor that complements, rather than overwhelms, the ham. A drink of Fino or Manzanilla after tasting good pata negra ham makes a combination of subtle flavors that is even better then either on its own, perfectly blending and bringing out the best in pata negra ham.
We must put aside the generous sweet wines and those that are stronger in flavor, because they are too powerful, overwhelming the flavor of the ham. Ham has a strong presence but the flavors are subtle, nuanced; the right pairing would bring out those flavors, not cover them up. The same goes for fruity, sparkling wines. Dry and Brut champagne are also popular options, and both have become fashionable pairings with pata negra ham. The reality is that they are suited to perfection, with their strong yet subtle flavors combining while leaving each space to be experienced. Rose wines are usually to weak in flavor, being overwhelmed by the ham.
The same thing happens with most white wines. Sweet white wines especially are too cloying, weakly flavored and unstructured to stand up to pata negra ham. Reserve and grand reserve red wines seem the obvious choice but their big personalities can be a little too boisterous, their strong flavors a little overpowering. The reaction can be less like complementing each other, more like canceling each other out. The red wines that work best with pata negra are the young, light reds that are more playful and bring out the lighter side of pata negra too.
Finally, older red wines that have been aged in wood, but not for too long, can be fantastic partners for pata negra. It's good to make sure that they're not too acidic or too alcoholic, though. Find an older red with ow acidity and you're in for a treat as the full body of the wine and the delicate flavor of the ham create a true treat for the palate.
How can you know which ham to buy?
It's no secret that Iberian ham is the culinary star during the holidays in Spain, whether eaten as a family for personal consumption, or when it is given as a gift that is truly premium in all respects. However, sometimes the question arises as to which ham to buy and which has the best appearance and taste, which will depend on the purity of the breed of pig that the product we buy comes from.
To start off with, it is important to know that there is a regulation governing the pig sector in Spain (Royal Decree 4/2014), which was updated a few years ago and allows ham to be sold with the title "Iberian" even when the purity of the breed is only 50%. This occurs, for example, when stallions from the Duroc breed from North America are crossed with mothers that are of a pure Iberian breed.
In other words, a large percentage of hams are sold everyday with the name Iberian, even though they're not 100% Iberian pigs.
If we look even farther back in our history, in the Herd Book, there were reproductive mothers that were registered and certified as Iberian based on their phenotype (physical characteristics), a visual evaluation, and without taking into account their parents - thus questioning and endangering the purity of the Iberian breed.
On the other hand, the Spanish Association of Iberian Pig Breeders (calle Aeceriber) manages the Herd Book for the purebred Iberian breed and this institution ensures that only animals with a known genealogy can be registered (with at least two ascending generations) for the production of products that are labeled as 100% Iberian.
Nevertheless, an annex in the document allows for the incorporation of females as pure Iberian through a visual evaluation, despite not knowing who the parents are.
Currently, according to the 2014 regulation, it is required that the labels on the pieces of ham include the product's percentage of Iberian breed, which can be 100%, 75% or 50%; Back in 2007, ham was classified in a dichotomous way as "pure Iberian" for those that were 100%, and "Iberian" for the remaining products that were the result of other crosses.
Going even further, some experts believe that the most appropriate thing to do would be to only use the word Iberian to refer to ham that is 100% pure Iberian, which is actually a low percentage of all the products available on the market (approximately 10%).
Following the current regulation, the use of coloured seals was implemented to identify hams based on their breed, either 100% Iberian or crossed Iberian, and the animal's feeding system (acorn-fed, free range grain-fed, or grain-fed), according to the following colours:
- Black: 100% acorn-fed Iberian ham; that is, father and mother are Iberian pigs registered in the Herd Book, and the animal, in the fattening stage, was fed mostly acorns.
- Red: acorn-fed Iberian ham that comes from animals that are 75%-50% from the Iberian breed; that is, this product is the result of crossing pure Iberian pigs with the Duroc breed, and in its fattening stage it was fed mostly acorns with some other natural resources like grass.
- Green: free range grain-fed Iberian ham, from 100%, 75% or 50% Iberian pigs; these pigs are raised in the fields and are fed a diet based on grains and legumes, in addition to grass.
- White: grain-fed Iberian ham, from 100%, 75% or 50% Iberian pigs; these pigs are raised on farms with food consisting mainly of grains and legumes.
It is important to emphasise that, the higher the purity and the better the animal's diet, the greater the quality of the product and therefore its cost when it is sold. Therefore, knowing the true origin of the product you purchase and its level of purity will guarantee that you're buying the ham you want and that it meets your expectations.
Why is good ham so expensive?
Gourmet food is undoubtedly among one of the many pleasures in life, and if we consider all of the delicacies from around the world that we could afford, why not include a good Iberian ham from Spain?
The cost of one of these high-quality pieces can easily exceed thousands of euros. But why is the price tag so high? And then there's the question, is it really worth it?
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Let's start by talking about what it means to raise pigs and the lifestyle of the people who do this job, because it takes a lot of passion and time to breed these animals and a long wait before the investment is recovered, as the pigs can only begin to be slaughtered, dismembered and then cured at least one year after they have finished growing.
Once in the production plant, the animal is cut into several pieces, and the next day the legs undergo the salting process in a room with a set temperature and humidity, which is critical to the quality of the final product and will affect its sale.
Later on, the ham changes rooms and temperature until it reaches the cellars, where it must spend approximately four years before it is then put on the market.
Around 5,000 hams are produced annually, but only the best will be sold for thousands of euros, which come from pigs that are of a purer breed.
In fact, in terms of quality, a large percentage of the ham production could be sold at higher prices, but since it's no longer viable in the current economy, a more exhaustive selection must be made.
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If we delve further into the issue of breeds, for many of us the image of a black hoof comes to mind when we talk about a good ham, those pigs that are fattened mainly with acorns.
To our surprise, the fact that a ham has a black hoof is not synonymous with being the best, because the most expensive ham in the world, which is also of the highest quality and most exclusive, is a white label ham: the famous Manchado de Jabugo. This pig is one of the six lines in the variety of the Iberian pig and is the result of crossing a British white pig with a sow from Huelva.
Breeding Manchado de Jabugo pigs is very complex: the sows give birth infrequently, their breeding lasts for 36 months instead of 14, and it requires a whole lot of space. The slow breeding of these pigs, their lower productivity compared to other breeds, and the ravages of swine fever, have led them to be in danger of extinction.
Their limited production has contributed to the rise in price and has catapulted this ham to its position as one of the most expensive in the world. However, some companies offer this type of ham at more moderate prices.
And what about the "black hoof" products? There are several breeds of Iberian origin, the most common of which are the Lampiña and the Entrepelada, which are black; others such as the aforementioned Manchada de Jabugo, the Tobsical, the Campiñesa Rubia and the Retinta are of a more reddish skin tone.
In all cases, the skin tone also refers to the colour of the hoof, and what we really want to make clear is that not all Iberian pigs have black hoofs. Additionally, other breeds of non-Iberian pigs are black, so colour is not always a guarantee of quality or of being pure bred.
At the end of the day, the pleasure of buying a ham for thousands of euros can only be experienced by a minority, the same goes for good liquor, clothes by a famous designer or a brand new car; but there are great alternatives in the market at a lower cost, making it easier for us to try a good Iberian ham without it digging too deep of a hole in our wallets.
How to buy ham from online stores
The increase in popularity of online shopping is undeniable. This method offers us a wide range of products that may not even be available in the area where we will live and allows us to make purchases in a practical and comfortable way. All we need is a computer or any other smart device with internet access.
Buying ham online can be a challenge. While it's possible to easily find the product we want from the comfort of our own home, we're still going to give you a few tips to make this process as safe as possible depending on our needs.
Online ham stores offer us several benefits, the main advantages for the buyer are: the ability to compare prices and the features of the products for sale; the ability to make purchases conveniently from home without having to go anywhere, receiving the ham from different parts of the world, including those products that aren't available in physical stores.
Likewise, there are also some disadvantages: by not having the product in front of us, we have less control over its selection and transportation; in some cases, due to a lack of information on the subject, we may be unsure of certain things such as the secureness of the online payment method, which isn't a problem in a physical store.
How to Choose the Store
When choosing the online store, it's important for it to have a quality guarantee and to keep in mind our experience with previous purchases. Stores usually provide information regarding:
An additional detail and security measure is to print out the purchase confirmation page and save the emails you've exchanged with the store.
- Information and quality of the ham: breed, type of feeding, curing, among others.
- Clear purchasing conditions: price, transportation, taxes, payment methods and delivery time.
- Company: name and address, telephone, email, contact form, etc.
- Price: it shouldn't be way below or way over the average consulted value.
- Security regarding payment and confidentiality: personal data must be provided with a secure connection, in which case the image of a closed padlock is usually shown in the browser and the page's address begins with "http://".
How to Identify a Good Ham
Initially, to choose the ham it's important to know what we are looking for and our available budget. For example, if we want to splurge and get a good piece of black Iberian ham, which is one of the most exquisite and of the highest quality, we must take into account some specific characteristics that will allow you to recognise this product when looking at its photos: the limb is long, slender and has a dark hoof. Likewise, if the ham has a Designation of Origin, the mark of the Regulatory Council must appear.
Later, once we have the product at home, we will proceed to examine it, making sure the flesh has a pinkish to dark red colour, a slightly fibrous texture with soft, shiny fat.
The product's brand in some cases is an indicator of quality, some manufacturers have gained an honest reputation over time (some with over 100 years of experience), while others invest large sums of money in advertising. On the other hand, artisan manufacturers can offer high quality products that are relatively unknown because they have a low production.
If you know little or nothing about the manufacturer, then you should choose a ham with a Denomination of Origin, since this means that its quality has been endorsed by a Regulatory Council and this agency can offer us information on the characteristics of the piece.
Packaging and Transport Conditions
Food should usually be transported under special conditions in order to prevent spoilage and thus receiving a product in poor condition. To do so, the store must provide you with information on the packaging and transport conditions, in addition to the estimated delivery time.
Ham, unless ordered without a rind, is not fragile or sensitive to transport conditions; however, it must be transported inside a cloth cover or a wooden or cardboard box and it must always be received with the packaging intact.
When there are abnormalities or defects in the packaging, the store must be notified so that they can take the necessary actions, either by replacing the product or returning it.
In view of the fact that the law does not require businesses to provide refunds with food products, and it is impossible to know for sure if a ham is salty or if it has an unpleasant taste without trying it, we recommend buying at stores that offer favourable return conditions.
We also recommend checking that the return conditions are clear on the online store, if you can't find them then you can ask for them before placing your order, meaning we will therefore be given a detailed explanation in writing in the event that we encounter any future problems related to the order. Likewise, specific details should be clarified, such as: in which cases the return will and won't be accepted, and who covers the shipping costs, maximum return period, etc.
Once we've reviewed all of these suggestions, we can feel more confident when purchasing a good ham from an online store, being able to treat ourselves or give our loved ones a great gift with one of the best delicacies offered by Spanish cuisine!
Myths and Truths, Benefits and Prejudices of Ham
A lot is said about ham, whether its Iberian ham, Serrano or any other kind. It is one of the main foods in Spain and a true culinary delicacy, however there is a lot of ignorance that currently surrounds this product, even in Spain, which is the epicentre for ham around the world.
In addition, when talking about ham, there are many questions that may come to mind, including: its nutritional content, if it can actually be harmful to your health, which is the best type to consume, etc.
How much do we really know about ham? How accurate is our knowledge? Here we will share with you some myths and truths about the star of Spanish cuisine.
Is ham fattening?
Depending on the type, some hams have more or less calories; in 100 grams of ham there are roughly 300 calories. The daily dietary recommendations oscillate between 1,900 and 2,500 calories, depending on your sex and personal goals (to gain or lose weight). Thus, 100 grams of ham would contribute 12-15% of said calories, similar to those contained in any type of meat protein.
Is the raw material the most important?
The raising and fattening of the pig are important. In fact, the classification and price of ham when it is sold on the market depends on the type of breed, how it is raised and fed. Although it is important for the raw material to come from the right place, the manufacturing process is vital for the quality of the final product, along with the salting process, controlling temperature and humidity, and the amount of time spent in the cellars, which are all factors that give the ham its final flavour and special touch.
Not All Ham is Good Ham
There are several types of ham, which differ due to the breed of pig, how they are raised, how the ham is produced and the amount of time spent of this production; all of these factors influence the flavour, texture, smell and quality of the ham, along with its price. When we talk about brands and models of cars, most of us understand the different between a luxury car and an economy car, but the same can't be said when it comes to understanding the different types of hams.
Is the fat bad?
Ham contains fat that is made up of cholesterol and triglycerides, which are necessary in our diet (but always in controlled amounts), along with carbohydrates and proteins. Ham (300 calories/100 grams) has more calories than beef (200 calories/100 grams), which is due to the infiltration of fat. Like everything in life: the secret lies in moderation.
Does the temperature of the ham matter?
Temperature can significantly alter the ham, where it is whole or sliced. If it is sliced and put in the fridge without being vacuum-packed, the ham dries out and changes its flavour. The ham has to be oily, with a shiny appearance.
How long after slicing the ham can you wait to eat it?
Another enemy of ham is oxygen, the less time spent in contact with oxygen, the better its flavour will be. Therefore, the best thing to do is to slice the ham and eat it right then and there.
A Happy Pig, Good Ham
Iberian pigs are usually raised by workers who genuinely care for them, their freedom and their happiness. The pig needs to be outdoors: go outside, lie down, run around... Different breeding, fattening and production techniques have been used on pigs that have not all been equally effective, which is why some producers prefer to invest in other meats such as chicken and turkey, where, for example, 50% of turkey breast is water.
What should you serve ham with?
Among the best things to serve with ham are bread and wine. The bread is usually served in slices and sometimes comes with olive oil on top. Experts in the art of food pairing recommend eating ham with fortified wines such as finos or chamomile. Nowadays, it is also common to see it paired with cava or champagne. Quality reserve wines are also appropriate, just like young wines with little body, or some dry whites. However, the most important thing is that the wine pairing be smooth, so that we can concentrate our senses on fully enjoying the quality of the ham.
Is Iberian ham fattening?
When we talk about "dieting", most of us think of a strict diet where we eliminate many food options due to their high fat content and caloric intake. There are also many questions surrounding one of the most highly coveted products in Spanish cuisine: Iberian ham, the product that we love so much and that makes our mouths water every time we hear the name.
But at the end of the day, does Iberian ham really make you fat? How much can we eat without it noticeably affecting our weight and health? Below we will answer these and other questions.
How many calories are in ham?
Because of the many different types of ham that exist and the diverse ways in which the animals are fed, where they come from and how the ham is produced, there is little consensus regarding the exact number of calories contained in this product. Practically speaking, taking into account several different references, a 100 gram serving of Iberian ham provides us with between 200 and 350 calories.
Since Iberian ham has the fat infiltrated into the lean part, it is almost impossible to separate. However, we should remember that due to the way that Iberian pigs are fed, their fat is rich in omegas and has many health benefits, something that has been widely studied.
On the other hand, cured ham or Serrano ham offers us a lower caloric intake when we eat only the lean part, in which case the calorie count would be very similar to any other cured ham, turkey or chicken. However, if it's eaten with the fat then the caloric intake increases and actually surpasses that of Iberian ham.
What makes Iberian ham a good choice to include in your diet?
Let's look at a few properties that Iberian ham offers us when we include it in our diet. Thanks to its high protein content, consuming ham increases the feeling of satiety and keeps us feeling full for longer when compared to other foods.
- In comparison with other cured meats, Iberian ham has the least amount of salt, which allows us to retain less fluid, as long as our water intake is between 1.5 to 2 litres per day.
- Its high protein content helps maintain muscle mass, which is essential to maintaining a good metabolism.
- It is an extremely versatile food and goes well with other health foods that are part of a balanced diet and weight control, including: vegetables (sautéed, pureed, soups, salad), fruits (melon, pineapple and apple), eggs (Spanish tortilla or hard boiled egg), dairy (on pizza) and grains (sandwiches or risotto).
What about the Mediterranean diet?
Iberian ham is part of the Mediterranean diet and is considered to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO; this diet is known for being balanced, providing numerous nutrients and health benefits, with a variety of recipes, cooking styles and products.
Furthermore, the Endothelium and Cardiometabolic Medicine Unit at the Ramón y Cajal Hospital in Madrid, Spain has demonstrated with several studies that consuming Iberian ham in our diets provides many benefits, and doesn't make you fat!
Some nutrition specialists assure us that Iberian ham is a recommended product for any healthy diet, and recommend eating between 200-300 grams a week to replace other less healthy red meats that are usually part of our diet.
What other health benefits does ham offer?
Iberian ham is a low-calorie meat, approximately 15% of its content is fat and this fat is rich in monounsaturated acids, mainly oleic acid (which is also found in olive oil, another product in the Mediterranean diet), which helps to increase the levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL or "good cholesterol"), reduce those of low density lipoproteins (LDL or "bad cholesterol") and control blood triglyceride levels. In addition, Iberian ham is rich in protein, iron, magnesium, zinc, water and several vitamins, among which is vitamin B3 that helps to manage stress.
Other favourable effects of Iberian ham for our health and, consequently, for our diet, have to do with its nutritional effects. These are due to how the pig is fed, especially if it receives an acorn-based diet. The more natural the pig's diet is the better, as this fills the meat with nutrients that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects at the cardiovascular level, in addition to being antioxidants. On the rest of our website, you can find additional information on the nutritional properties of Iberian products.
Iberian ham is the healthiest cured meat with the least amount of saturated fat that exists; or, in other words, it's a true culinary gem.
Any diet in particular?
One interesting fact - a few years ago, a weight-loss diet was published that was based on the daily intake of Iberian ham and wine in combination with various food and with which you could theoretically lose 4 to 6 kilos in 4 weeks. Sounds interesting right? Its creators sought to create a diet in which people wouldn't feel restricted and could follow it without cheating or sacrificing social activities that usually include both ham and wine, taking into account the benefits of both foods.
What about athletes?
It's a proven fact that there is a direct relationship between sport and food, more specifically, between sport performance and nutrition. Depending on the sport you practice or our own individual objectives regarding our bodies, the amount of proteins, carbohydrates and fats we need will vary. Thus, people who practice any sport must follow a diet that satisfies their nutritional needs in order for the organism to function properly and maintain itself, in addition to covering the additional energy expenditure resulting from the physical activity, while also helping to increase performance.
The healthy fat that comes from Iberian ham provides beneficial energy for extended periods of physical activity. In addition, its high protein content helps muscle tissue to recover. In fact, an athlete's body mostly consumes carbohydrates and proteins during the physical activity, and the proteins provided by the Iberian ham are high quality and easy to assimilate. For all of these reasons, Iberian ham is an ideal food to be included in an athlete's diet, as it allows them to make up for the extra energy expenditure that occurs when practicing sport, and offers powerful cardiovascular and antioxidant benefits.
One of many examples is that of José Ivars López, a Spanish mountaineer who has set a challenge that only 400 people have been able to achieve: to reach the top of the highest peaks on each continent in a period of five years; a challenge known as "The Seven Summits".
In an interview, he stated that Iberian ham is an essential part of his diet during the hard days on the mountain: "In altitude, energy consumption is much faster and we need to replenish our energy quickly. For this reason, I conducted a study that was managed by the ambassador of 5 Jotas in the United Kingdom and owner of Spanish Ham Master, José Sol, about the beneficial properties of ham during these expeditions. In addition, I also think about eating it at each peak so that the descent is easier," he said.
Who and what quantities of ham should we consume?
- Those on a diet: when you feel like snacking, you can eat a bit of Iberian ham and not feel guilty. It's nutritious and leaves you feeling full; maximum 30 grams.
- Children: cured ham is rich in sodium and the additive nitrite, so children are recommended to eat it in small quantities. Iberian ham is the healthiest, although a child under 4 years old shouldn't exceed 50 grams a day.
- Adults: Iberian ham can be consumed for your main meals in smaller quantities than other red meats due to its high protein content. You can also enjoy it with a glass of red wine whenever you want.
- Those with food intolerances: in these cases, you should not eat ham, as it usually contains traces of gluten or glutamate. If you're overweight, it's better to choose pieces without fat.
Now we know that we can consume Iberian ham without being afraid of getting fat, quite the opposite. However, if we're following a nutritional plan under the supervision of a specialist, a good idea is to ask them and clarify any questions you may have about consuming ham and the amount you should include in your diet, as well as any other food that is to our liking.
What no one can deny is that sliced ham served with a glass of wine and a little bit of bread, once or twice a week, doesn't represent a significant caloric intake and is a viable and unquestionably tempting option for anyone.
After having talked about all this, if you've worked up an appetite and you'd like to enjoy some Iberian ham, why not take a peak at the section of our online store and pick out a great ham for yourself?
What to do with the ham bone?
As we all know, Iberian ham is a food that's been classified as the star of Spanish cuisine. However, many ignore the fact that even after it's finished, we can continue to enjoy its delicious flavour, getting the most out of it and enjoying different culinary options. We can achieve all of this with just one thing that's left over after we've finished the ham: its bone, which we shouldn't throw away if we want to spice up our cooking and the dishes we prepare.
Here we're going to be sharing different ideas that you can use to take advantage of the ham's bone, the last remaining part of the investment we made when buying it. These are delicious recipes that'll leave a good taste in your mouth and will use up every last bit of our ham, no matter what type it is: black-skinned, Iberian, Serrano, etc.
First things first, how do we handle the ham bone?
We recommend cutting the bone into small pieces or slices, making sure that there are no sharp edges. The tools we primarily need are a good table and a powerful saw; otherwise, we can take it to our trusted butcher so that they can do us the favour of cutting it for us, as they'll have the right tools for this procedure.
When we've got the ham bone in pieces, we can either use it immediately to prepare a dish, or we can store it in the freezer to use it at a later date. We must keep in mind that if we are going to freeze the bone, we should cover it with film paper or in a vacuum freezer bag to prevent it from drying out.
Now let's get to the point - here are a few different recipes that can be prepared using the bone.
Concentrated ham broth
This is one of the main uses for the ham bone. It is a delicious broth with a slight taste of ham. In addition, it doesn't take a lot of work and can even be prepared by those who are unexperienced in the kitchen.
- 3 ham bones, preferably Iberian ham.
- 2.5 litres of water.
One alternative is to make ham gelatin. All we need to do is put water in a pot with the bone and wait for the water to boil for the correct amount of time until it turns into gelatin. This can be used to give other traditional dishes a special touch.
- Bleach the bones: we'll leave the pieces of bone soaking in hot water until it boils; we'll notice how it begins to release impurities that can harm and damage the flavour. We should repeat this process 2 to 3 times.
- Cook the bones: we proceed to cook the pieces of bone for about two hours. To do so, we add 2.5 litres of water to the pot and remove the fat that is gradually released from the pieces of bone.
- Strain the broth: we then have to strain the broth to make sure we filter all possible impurities that may be left over. Now we can consume it directly or store it in the freezer for later consumption, or use it to prepare other dishes.
To prepare this delicious dish, we will need to use the broth that we learned how to cook previously.
- 450 ml of ham broth.
- 200 g of Iberian ham..
- 1 chopped onion.
- 150 g of butter.
- 150 g of flour
- 600 ml of milk.
- 20 g of nutmeg.
- Flour, eggs and bread crumbs.
- Oil for frying.
- Sauté: first sauté the onion and ham in a little butter, adding the flour later on to then continue softening the ingredients for a little longer. Then we add the ham broth and the milk until they are integrated, while we continue to heat it up until it begins to form a dough.
- Cook the dough: we proceed to cook the dough for about 10 minutes on a medium-low heat while stirring. Halfway through the process, we add a pinch of nutmeg or any other seasoning of our liking.
- Let the dough rest: once we have finished, we pour the mixture into a container and cover it with film paper and keep it in the fridge until the next day.
- Shape the croquettes: now that the mixture has been able to rest in the fridge, it is time to shape the croquettes. We prepare elongated strips of the desired thickness on a surface with flour, then cut them and coat them with a mixture of egg and bread crumbs.
- Fry the croquettes: all that's left to do is fry the croquettes. To do so, we will use enough oil to cover them entirely. We must make sure the oil is very hot, otherwise they may break and won't achieve the desired appearance.
Ham and vegetable soup
In this recipe, we will also take advantage of the same bones we used to make the broth.
- 3 ham bones, preferably Iberian.
- 2.5 litres of water.
- 2 - 3 large potatoes.
- 3 - 4 carrots.
- 1 - 2 chives.
- Pasta and hard-boiled egg.
So there you have it. All that's left to do is to try these recipes we've presented and even experiment with other cooking ideas that you may think of. After all, there's no doubt that the characteristics and flavour of the ham is practically a fool-proof guarantee for a delicious dish. Use it to whip up a fantastic meal to share with your loved ones.
- Boil the water, bones and vegetables: the first thing to do is put water, bones and vegetables in a pot until they boil. Then we lower the heat and let it cook for about an hour; we will remove the foam and the fat that is released.
- Straight the broth: strain the broth and add salt to taste.
- Make the soup: now we just have to add the noodles or any other type of pasta of our choice, accompanying it with a hard-boiled egg and cooking it for a few minutes.
Why do we usually hang ham?
It's normal to enter a bar, restaurant, charcuterie or other type of store in Spain and encounter the following: hams hanging from the ceiling along with a whole bunch of flavours and smells that are hard to miss and that heighten our senses, enticing us to try at least a couple slices of Iberian ham.
But why is this practice used and where does this ancestral custom come from? Today we will review some information in order to answer this question regarding one of the many interesting characteristics of ham. After all, it's practically a rule that around any precious treasure there are various hidden secrets, and some may seem almost unbelievable when we evaluate them within the context of these modern times.
Below, we'll be sharing the main reasons why, since ancient times, Iberian ham has been hung from the ceilings of pantries, cellars and other rooms, impregnating them with its peculiar aroma.
The Holy Inquisition and its historical share of responsibility
If we delve into the history and traditions of Iberian ham, we find that the use or custom of hanging the ham has both anthropological and cultural roots. To explore these roots, we have to go back to the Iberian peninsula in the 10-14th century after Christ, when the modern states of Spain and Portugal hadn't come into existence.
At that time, Christians and Jews lived together on the Iberian Peninsula. After the expulsion of the Jews in the 15th century, those who continued to inhabit the peninsular territory were forced to convert to Christianity. To understand this, we need to situate ourselves in the context of a city recently conquered by the armies of Christianity, in which the Christian community becomes dominant and thus begins to impose its customs as a palpable way of verifying its dominance.
Bearing in mind what we've just described, a question arises that we will try to answer next:
How did the Jews convince the Holy Inquisition that they were truly and effectively converted? The answer is simple and at the same time interesting: by putting pork everywhere - on their plates, using lard to cook with and even visibly hanging hams at the entrance to their homes. In fact, one of the explanations of why the Jews were called "Marranos" is that in order to hide their religion, they started cooking pork at home so that whoever passed by would catch a whiff of the smell of pork and this smell would wipe away any doubt as to their religion.
In other words, the reason for having a ham hanging from the roof of an establishment, or in a visible place within the home, goes beyond a way of merely storing it. It proved that pork was consumed in that home and that therefore no Jew lived there. It was therefore evident that the people who lived in those houses were Christians, not Jews, escaping from the actions and reprisals of the much feared Inquisition.
Elimination of moisture and excess fat from the ham
We now currently know that the ham is hung so that it is well-ventilated and better conserved. By hanging the Iberian hams from the ceiling, it is easier to air them out and the moisture from the piece gradually disappears, until any excess fat is eliminated.
Experts in ham recommend keeping the ham in a dry, dark place with good ventilation so that all of its flavour and the right dryness is maintained. In fact, hams are also hung from ceilings in rooms and cellars during their drying and ageing process; this means that when the pieces begin to sweat, the fat slides off towards one end.
Just like how we've seen that hams are usually hung from the ceiling, we may have also noticed that these pieces come with a type of plastic hat placed on one end, which is called a "chorrera" or umbrella, whose main function is to collect the excess fat that the ham releases, managing to keep both the piece of ham and the ground in good condition.
After reading this article, where we have tried to outline the reasons why ham is often hung, including the historical bases that go back centuries and centuries, it's clear that this custom is truly the best way to keep a piece of ham in excellent condition. We therefore invite you to put this custom and what you've learned into practice with one of our very own exquisite pieces of ham.
Ham and Pregnancy: Can Iberian ham be included in pregnant women's diets?
The star food of the Mediterranean diet and particularly of Spanish cooking is Serrano ham, and just like with other raw or undercooked meats, it is allowed during pregnancy in those women who have previously had toxoplasmosis. But can pregnant woman who have not been infected with this disease also consume ham?
What is toxoplasmosis and who can get it?
Toxoplasmosis is an infectious disease caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. This disease can be contracted in the following ways:
Most of those who are infected do not actually have the disease, but the parasite can cause serious problems in some people, including those with a weakened immune (defence) system and babies of mothers who contracted the infection during pregnancy. The condition can lead to lesions in the brain, eyes and other organs. However, medical treatment does exist for these cases.
- Exposure to the excrements of infected cats.
- Consumption of raw or undercooked contaminated meat.
- Use of utensils that have cut contaminated raw meat.
- Drinking contaminated water.
- Receiving an organ transplant or blood transfusion from people who have the infection.
Generally speaking, if a woman has not had toxoplasmosis prior to her pregnancy, she should avoid eating raw or undercooked meats because of the risk of contracting this disease during pregnancy. However, more recent research has concluded that this is not the case for ham. In fact, the more cured the ham is, the lower the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy. According to various studies, a long curing process, the salt and other factors make it unlikely that the parasite causing toxoplasmosis can survive.
Furthermore, if a woman has not had toxoplasmosis before her pregnancy, it is unlikely that she will catch the infection if she maintains a similar diet during pregnancy. As an additional fact, any packaged product by trusted brands that can be found in supermarkets has passed rigorous and exhaustive quality controls, and should therefore be free of this and other diseases.
Frozen Meats are Safer
One of the main recommendations is that the ham must have been frozen and then thawed prior to its consumption. The toxoplasmosis parasite cannot survive being exposed to temperatures of -20ºC for two days, or -10ºC for three days. Therefore, products that have been frozen under these temperatures and for these periods of time may be consumed, after having thawed them slowly.
Ham's Processing and its Infectivity
Most studies that have analysed the presence of toxoplasma in cured products derived from pigs agree on the low rate of positivity (per se presence of the parasite in the medium) and infectivity (ability to invade an organism and cause infection). This is due to the effect of processes such as salting, which significantly reduces the viability of the toxoplasma. In this context, ham is a special case when compared to other products, since it is processed in a more complex way:
Normal salt concentration in ham is 5-8%, although higher concentrations can be found. This is very relevant, since a salt concentration above 2% causes the toxoplasma to lose its infectivity; when this processing is combined with nitrites, the effect is even greater. In ham, nitrite is an additive that prevents the growth of microorganisms. Additionally, it gives the ham the characteristic reddish colour and contributes to its aroma.
- Salting for one or several days.
- Moisture is drained for 24 to 48 hours at 0ºC.
- Drying for several days at a temperature of between 3 and 5ºC.
- Cured for several months at a temperature of between 10 and 20 ºC.
Longer Curing Time = Lower Risk of Infection
Ham's curing time is an important mechanism when it comes to deactivating the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which is reassuring when it comes time to eat the product. This process seems to play a very important role in reducing risk: the longer the curing time, the lower the risk of infection.
In 2011, the Journal of Food Protection published the results of a study carried out by specialists in Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Zaragoza, regarding the relationship between the ham's curing process and the survival of the toxoplasmosis parasite in the product. For this study, pigs that were naturally infected with the parasite were evaluated. The hams were analysed after 7 and 14 months of curing, time in which the company began selling the product. At the end of the study, no viable parasites were detected in the product, thus concluding that the consumption of ham poses a minimal risk of contracting toxoplasmosis.
Another study, in this case carried out by the Andalusian Technology Centre in the Meat Sector, with support from Andalucia's regional government and their Ministry of Innovation, said that the consumption of Iberian ham is not harmful for pregnant women, due to its curing process that decreases the risk of toxoplasmosis.
Given all of the above, we cannot categorically state that Serrano ham is not infective, however the probability of infection is negligible.
So can pregnant women eat ham?
One of the problems that some experts see is that when a pregnant woman goes to the store to buy ham, the curing time is not specified on the product label. However, this important information should always be on the label, not just for pregnant women but as something that is also useful for the general public.
However, if a ham is purchased from a trusted store and a well-known brand, and it has been properly salted, processed at the right temperatures and with a long curing time, it is very unlikely that the ham will contain the parasite and that the parasite has been able to survive for such a long time.
In conclusion, we can say that the longer the ham's curing time (14-24 months, or more), the safer its consumption. Thus, if a pregnant woman has a craving for ham, she can act on it as long as she takes into account the recommendations for the product's minimum curing time.
The Role of Ham in a Child's Growth and Develeopment
A child's diet is modified progressively with their development. In the first six months of their life, exclusive breastfeeding should be the norm, as it provides the baby with all the necessary nutrients. Afterwards, the diet should begin to incorporate formula milk, baby food made of fruit and vegetables, in addition to white and red meat prepared in ways that the baby can handle, who still doesn't have any teeth to chew the food with.
When they turn one, foods such as eggs, cured meats and cold cuts can be introduced into the child's diet. The recommendation is to start them on a diet that is similar to the rest of the family, opting for soft foods that provide enough nutrients.
If we focus on ham, different questions arise regarding the role of this food in growth and development, the moment in which it can be introduced into the diet, and the properties that make it beneficial.
Cured meats or cold cuts?
Cured meats are prepared from pieces of raw meat and fat that are introduced into natural or artificial casings or skin to then be cured. Chorizo or salami, for example, are both types of cured meat. On the other hand, cold cuts are pieces of salted and cooked meat; in this group, ham and turkey are of the highest quality.
In the case of a child's diet, cold cuts are more highly recommended, especially ham because it contains less fat and calories than other cold cuts or cured meats. The ham should be cut into very thin slices or small pieces, and should be eaten with moderation.
When to introduce ham?
One of the questions that parents may ask themselves when discussing what to feed their baby is related to ham. There is a common idea that ham is difficult to eat because of its consistency and that children could choke on it, thus the question that arises is whether or not it is a good idea to introduce it into their diet.
The ideal thing to do is to introduce the ham starting at one year old, taking the added precaution of cutting it into very thin slices or shredding it so that it's easy to eat. In addition, the ham has high nutritional value and is a great food for the baby's first few years, since it also has many beneficial nutrients that help with proper growth and development.
It is important to introduce this food into the diet, since special care should be taken to prevent malnutrition during the infant stage. Both short-term and long-term repercussions can occur during this stage, as both good and bad habits often remain throughout the child's life. It is therefore very important to gradually add all of the food into the child's diet so that their body gets used to it and can learn to distinguish when there is something it does not like.
Which is better: Serrano ham, York ham or Iberian ham?
Another common question is about what type of cured meat or cold cut is best to introduce into the child's diet. In this sense, both types of food have clear differences. Specifically, York ham contains a considerably higher amount of sugar in comparison to Serrano ham and, therefore, it should be introduced to the child's diet after the Serrano ham.
Iberian ham provides more higher-quality proteins than Serrano ham, however the latter contains less fat and calories. Additionally, Iberian ham contains more salt, but it is a 100% natural food and does not contain any additives.
Unlike Iberian ham, Serrano ham also provides more phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. Both Iberian and Serrano ham are healthy products that are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, but if we take into account the characteristics and nutritional content of both products, Serrano ham is more appropriate for a child's diet.
What does ham provide?
To sum up, as we previously described, ham has a high nutritional value: it provides larges amounts of iron and zinc, it is rich in high-quality proteins (with all the basic amino acids) and omega fatty acids, in addition to being a food that is rich in vitamins, including the B vitamins.
The high iron content in ham helps the child to remain in a good physical condition. Potassium is an element that benefits both the brain cells and muscle development, in addition to helping improve the immune system.
Iberian ham contains a significant amount of B vitamins and minerals, such as zinc, which directly affects the child's health and growth. In addition, acorn-fed ham contains good amounts of oleic acid, which helps to control cholesterol and the balance of fats in the body.
Does ham prevent obesity?
It's true that among all the beneficial properties of ham, it also helps to prevent obesity, as long as the child receives a balanced diet with nutritious foods for proper development. It is common knowledge that moderation is always the key, but in the case of a food as nutritious as ham, it can be a more common part of a child's healthy diet.
With all the above, we can safely conclude that ham, in particular Serrano or Iberian ham, is highly recommended to be included in a child's diet and should be eaten frequently by both children and adolescents.
Tips for Preserving Ham
There are so many ham enthusiasts in the world, whether it's people who enjoy it on special occasions or as a part of their usual diet. Regardless of how often you eat ham, there are special ways of caring for ham and ways to prepare it in order to keep the ham in perfect condition as time goes by.
When we decide to invest in a nice piece of ham, we should keep in mind that there are specific ways to properly store it. Experts in the field have shared different tips and recommendations when it comes to consuming ham, as well as how to store the ham for a certain amount of time. Let's look at some of their suggestions in order to get the most out of the ham, lengthening its shelf life and maintaining its flavour and smell.
According to experts, the conditions we should keep the ham in are similar to those of the curing cellar; that is, a cool and dry place. Changes in temperature can alter the organoleptic characteristics of the ham, including its texture and smell, therefore it is important to avoid these changes. It is recommended that the ham be kept at a temperature of between 10 and 15 degrees centigrade. Furthermore, you should avoid placing the ham near fryers, ovens and other cooking devices that generate heat.
Watch out for light
We must keep the ham away from sources of light that could directly hit it. Like many other food products, ham should be protected from sunlight. The ham, or slices of ham, should not be exposed or stored in places where there is direct sunlight since, just like with inadequate temperatures, this can lead to alterations in its flavour and colour. A cellar is an optimal place with the described properties for preserving ham.
Eat soon after cutting
Recently sliced ham tastes better than ham that was sliced a few days ago. However, when you want to cut large quantities of ham, even whole pieces, it's best for the ham to be properly sliced by a professional and then vacuum-packed. This way we can help preserve its properties and it'll be easier and more practical to eat later on. In general, we recommend only slicing what you can eat in one sitting.
Cover with fat
Putting fat on the ham after slicing it is a very common practice. This is used to prevent the ham from coming in contact with the air and thereby delaying the surface from oxidising. The best thing to do is to cover the surface you've just cut with the white fat form the Iberian ham itself. This practice gives the ham a better image and prevents any unpleasant flavours and odours from being transferred to the ham. In addition, you should place a clean cotton cloth over the ham; this is the ideal way to preserve the ham when we're not going to be cutting it.
Experts report that you should open the ham within the first two months after having bought it. In addition, the ham should be consumed within a maximum of one month after you've begun eating it.
Where should we cut it?
The cut of the ham must start from the leg and, once you've begun, the surface should be kept as uniform as possible in order to get the most out of the ham. There should be a method to your cutting. In addition, it's a good idea to maintain a uniform proportion of fat and lean meat in each slice; the ideal slice is three centimetres wide. You shouldn't cut the ham in several areas, as this makes it easier for the ham to dry out prematurely.
Use the right knife
Professionals in the art of cutting ham use three knives: one long, strong knife to strip the ham and cut the outer part; a boning knife, called a pairing knife, to separate the lean meat from the bone in complicated areas; and the ham knife. This last one is thin, flexible and long, especially designed to achieve thin, perfect slices. Additionally, they use a sharpening tool to sharpen the knives and keep them in tip top cutting condition.
Regarding the use of wrapping
The ham should not be wrapped, we need to remember that it's an organic product, it's alive. By wrapping the ham, we are depriving it of the ability to breathe and sweat, and we only manage to diminish its quality. When you buy a piece of ham, it's a good idea to remove all wrapping that it comes with and to hang it in a cool, dry place where it can breathe. Plastic wrappings and other materials should be avoided because they can favour the appearance of unpleasant flavours and smells that range from rancid to humid.
What about the packaging?
When cutting the whole piece, it's a good idea to vacuum pack it in plastic bags and in portions of approximately 100 grams, which are customary for consumption. If you are going to eat it within a few hours or days, it can be kept at a temperature of between 10 to 15º, without the need to refrigerate it. If we aren't going to consume it for a long time, it's best to keep it refrigerated in order to delay the oxidation of fats and prolong the ham's shelf life. You should remove the refrigerated packets of ham half an hour before consuming them; this will allow it to reach the optimum temperature for consumption. After half an hour, you should open the package and place the slices on a plate to air out the ham before you enjoy it.
Once you've reviewed this set of recommendations for preserving and storing ham, you'll be able to prolong the product's shelf-life, managing to maintain its smell, taste and texture for even longer.
What is ham shaping and why is it done?
Shaping the ham is an important process during its production, this step acts as a second opportunity to clean off extra fat, and also provides the piece with a better exterior appearance.
During the ham's processing, each manufacturer has its own way of shaping the ham, although the breed of pig is a determining factor when it comes to the shape of the piece. At the beginning, this process intends to remove parts of the musculature, fat and skin from the exterior part of the piece, giving it the appropriate proportions that are desired for its presentation.
We can find different types of hams in all physical and online stores. One of the aspects that can draw our attention is the type of shaping that each ham has received; this is one of the piece's characteristics that quickly grabs our attention.
What is ham shaping?
Ham shaping is a process that takes place once the hams have been separated from the rest of the pig's body and mainly consists of removing excess fat and skin from the piece with a knife, in order to protect the product and give it the desired appearance.
What is the purpose of shaping?
Many people have the idea that the shaping process is carried out in order to improve the appearance of the ham, seeing how it is bevelled in order to be visually appealing. However, the objective is not only to achieve an attractive outside shape but to also review the leg to make sure there are no holes or cracks through which external agents could enter such as dust, insects or any other substance that could contaminate the piece.
Thus, ham shaping has two main objectives:
After this process, the pieces come out clean, without any kind of damage. It's important to point out that the pieces never come into contact with the ground and that they are handled in a hygienic setting in order to prevent the introduction of any type of microorganism.
- Aesthetics: through this process, a more attractive appearance is obtained for the outside of the piece.
- Protection: when cutting the leg to shape it, it's possible to ensure that there are no openings or wounds through which particles or contaminants could enter the piece and damage it.
What types of shaping exist?
Each manufacturer carries out this process in a different way since it directly influences the way each ham is produced. It is one of the defining characteristics that can differentiate the hams.
Generally speaking, there are 3 main ways to shape a ham:
- Hams with a V-cut: when the skin goes from the elbow towards the centre of the ham in a V-shape. This cut is the best-known and most common in Spain, it is also called the "Serrano V-cut". The majority of hams are cut this way during the shaping phase.
- Hams with a beveled or round cut: when all the skin is left on the piece. This is another option we can find, on these hams all of the fat on the piece is covered with skin. This type of shaping is typical in the regions of Teruel and Trevélez, although it can also be seen traditionally in other parts of Spain.
- Crescent: in this case, as the name indicates, the skin is cut into a half-moon shape. In areas like Huelva, this cut is applied to the shoulder hams, with this profile being very characteristic of the pieces that come from this Spanish municipality.
Another aspect that we can find in the market are hams with a cut hoof or "leg". This is characteristic of some areas and the reason why hams are still produced in this way is due to tradition or for reasons of convenience in the warehouse and in the transport of the ham. That being said, any of the types of shaping we've previously described can be found with or without the leg.
What other processes are involved with the shape and appearance of the ham?
After the shaping phase, the bleeding is carried out, which consists of evacuating the blood from the leg through the application of manual or mechanical pressure.
After the bleeding, during the washing the ham is brushed, scraped and massaged, which continues to shape it and eliminates any traces of blood that could be left over in the ham. At this time, expert eyes can evaluate the piece and get a clear idea of what the final appearance will be, taking into account the fact that it is in the remaining processes, especially in the later maturating and ageing stage, when the ham will achieve its definitive appearance.
New Technologies and Ham - MRI in Ham Tasting - Spectral Images
Tasting hams, just like any other culinary delicacy, is an art form that is only mastered be a select group of experts. For most of us, a ham tasting consists of trying a good Iberian ham, cut into thin slices. However, none of this would be possible without the work of a ham master, who previously evaluates and tastes the ham in order to then sell a good product in different stores.
What is the problem associated with the traditional methods of tasting ham?
When it comes to tasting ham, the main difficulty is the need for the ham master to puncture it with an instrument made of bone; this material absorbs the ham's aromas, allowing the ham master to know whether the ham has reached the right amount of curing, or if it should be left in this stage for more time or if, on the other hand, the product has spent too much time in the cellar.
Puncturing the ham interrupts the curing process and the piece risks being damaged if it's not ready. For this reason, the ham master needs to trust their other senses in order to evaluate and decide what condition the ham is in. Clearly, the ability to determine whether the leg of ham is sufficiently cured by just observing and sniffing it, is an art that only a few are able to master perfectly and that leaves a great deal up to chance.
Which characteristics of a ham can be evaluated technically?
The quality assessment of meat products has been the subject of many studies for decades. In most cases, techniques have been developed to evaluate the physico-chemical characteristics of both fresh and cured meat products, including their colour, moisture content, amount of fats, proteins or salt. However, these techniques are destructive and involve the use of organic solvents, in addition to requiring a lot of time and effort.
What modern methods have emerged?
MRIs and other imaging techniques have emerged as alternative methods for the physico-chemical analysis of ham, due to their non-destructive, non-invasive, non-intrusive, non-ionising and harmless nature. There have been many studies published that have tried to determine a meat product's characteristics in terms of its quality, most of which have focused on loins and legs.
In Spain, a team of scientists from the University Research Institute of Meat and Meat Products (IProCar), a meat studies institute at the University of Extremadura, has described an ingenious method for tasting ham, without the need to puncture or open it up. To do so, they used an MRI scanner, the same non-invasive imaging technique used in modern medicine that makes it possible to see organs and structures inside the human body. This imaging method is now used for a very different purpose: to find out the characteristics of Iberian hams and loins without the need to handle them in any way.
Once the images have been captured, the scientists analyse them with computerised vision algorithms and extract numerical values to which statistical methods are applied. Thus, it is possible to predict the characteristics of meat products in terms of quality. These techniques allow us to know parameters such as the amount of fat, moisture and colour, as well as some of the product's sensory attributes. When it comes to ham, this method also enables us to monitor salt diffusion during the different stages of the ageing process, practically in real time.
What does the future hold for MRIs in the ham market?
The procedure described was recently published in the Journal of Food Engineering. The researchers commented that their technique can easily be applied to the ham industry because it uses devices and algorithms that are very simple to implement. In addition, they pointed out that it is only a matter of time before these methods are implemented in the meat industry as a whole.
It is common knowledge that when a product has an elevated cost in the market, as in the case of Iberian ham, competitors then offer another product that they claim has similar characteristics and components, but at a better price. These cheaper products are often not what they seem, something that is well-known reality in the meat sector, and can be seen, for example, in products that are marked with confusing labels, masking the fact that we're consuming something other than what we were offered. This improper and fraudulent practice seems to have its days numbered.
A group of researchers from the University of Seville (Spain) has developed a novel technique that allows us to determine the presence of microorganisms in real time, along with the meat's quality, the type of feed that the animal received or, in the case of plants like the olive, the appropriate point of maturation in order to obtain the best oil; all this information is obtained from hyperspectral images, which collect up to 170 bands of the electromagnetic spectrum (both visible and non-visible) of any product, with the subsequent application of artificial intelligence for its analysis and interpretation.
Doctors from the research group Electronic Technology and Industrial Informatics (TIC-150), at the University of Seville, are working on the application of artificial intelligence in the field, a key issue in agricultural and livestock production in this technological era in which we live. This team has developed a prototype along with the ProDTI foundation, a non-profit entity belonging to the university, whose mission is to generate research projects and to transfer their results to a business reality, along with the companies Soltel and Ctaex (Agrifood Technology Centre of Extremadura).
The developed prototype uses cameras that collect information obtained from all the spectrums of a product (up to 170 bands, in comparison with the three bands from conventional imaging) for its subsequent analysis by artificial intelligence, with which the machine is able to detect any property of the evaluated object. The researchers have pointed out that, in approximately seven seconds, between 400 megabytes and two gigabytes of information are analysed, which allows us to know, for example, if a meat is contaminated with Salmonella (a bacterium that generates a gastrointestinal infection), its percentage of oleic acid and other nutrients that make it possible to determine how the animal was fed, and even the presence of defects or foreigns objects in the product.
To reach a high degree of efficiency (95%), the researchers have also developed algorithms that make it possible to distinguish the images obtained by the cameras within the framework of the Hyqum project, a system for the detection of microbial contamination in beef and pork, the presence of foreign bodies and a system that determines the characteristics of the pig's diet via remote sensing using hyperspectral technology.
With the use of these technologies, the industry obtains a clear benefit, as with a camera that can cost up to €12,000 and the right computer system, each product can be analysed prior to its processing for consumption, all of which is occurring in real time. In contrast, right now samples are obtained that have to be analysed in laboratories so that a food can remain in the production chain, which requires more time and different laborious techniques. As an additional benefit, the analysis of spectral images provides information that guarantees the level of quality that is offered to the market.
For the consumer, the benefit is equally significant. The record of the image analyses certifies not only that the meat is in perfect condition, but it also provides information regarding its composition, including the animal's diet before being slaughtered, and it's pathogen-free status.
It's worth mentioning that these technologies can be applied outside of the meat sector. For example, this technique and its parameters of artificial intelligence are being used to determine the quality of olives, thus ensuring they are harvested at the ideal time in order to prepare the best possible oil. Beyond that, with the image of an olive tree, it is possible to determine the amount of olives in a farm, the caliber or degree of ripeness of the fruit, all of which is information that is essential for managing the harvest and taking it to the mills at the right time.
Finally, the researchers of the described project have stated that, at the end of the year, the technology could be ready to be applied by the industry, and they have highlighted the existence of other fields of research in which the implementation of this technology may be useful, including everything from medicine, where it is already applied as a non-invasive diagnostic method in the specific areas of oncology, cardiology and ophthalmology, to the restoration of cultural heritage.
The Iberian Pig Begins to Migrate
What seemed like a nightmare for entrepreneurs in the Iberian ham sector is now becoming a reality, especially for those whose work is tied to traditional breeding and production systems. To date, there are now at least a couple companies in the United States that are involved with breedings pigs and producing pork derivatives in the USA, products that also carry the official Iberian seal. This has taken Spanish companies and designations of origin by surprise and not in nice way, which if we remember, currently include 4 classifications: Jabugo, Pedroches, Extremadura and Guijuelo.
Among the well-known American companies that have recently gotten involved in the sale of Iberian products is Acornseekers and Iberian Pastures, which work with Iberian pigs that have been imported from Spain into American territory. Let's look at a few characteristics of these emerging companies, their products and the existing regulations.
What is the Iberian Pastures brand?
The brand called Iberian Pastures is a company that is product of the fusion of the Oriol family with White Oak Pastures, the latter company is responsible for the sale of organic meat and has its own slaughterhouses, and its animals have been certified for humane treatment and for receiving organic feed. This emerging company offers a product with a label that is contradictory in and of itself: meat from "American Iberian pigs".
The entrepreneurs from the Oriol family, with a Spanish father and Turkish/American mother, established an alliance with the main producer of organic food in the USA. This collaboration outlined a plan to move pigs from six different families in Spain and evaluated creating a system that would emulate the Spanish feed and climate in American lands. It took a year to legalise the entry of pigs into the country and one of the main concerns was how the animals would react once exposed to new pathogens in the environment.
The Iberian Pastures company claims to sell products that are derived from the authentic Spanish Iberian pig, going so far as to ensure that these pigs are much purer than the Iberian pig in Spain, which is crossed with the Duroc breed of American pigs and that are characterised by growing faster and requiring less feed for their fattening.
What does the law say about exporting Iberian ham?
Currently, the law does not include any impediments or restrictions in the export of Iberian animals from Spain. In fact, current European legislation prevents the inclusion of any breed in the list of protected figures. The Iberian pig is not the only animal that is exported, other animals such as cattle are another example of this practice. One thing to point out is that the export of Iberian pigs allows their derived products to also be labeled with the term "Iberian" when sold on the market.
Peanuts instead of acorns
Two of the four categories of Iberian ham available in the Spanish market can be exported according to the current classification: Grain-fed Iberian ham (50-75% Iberian breed, grain fed, indoors) and acorn and grain-fed Iberian ham (50-75% Iberian breed, fed with acorns and grains). However, Iberian Pastures feeds its pigs with walnuts and peanuts, as there are no food regulations for these animals that apply in the US. On the other hand, Akornseekers feeds its pigs with acorns from Texas. The remaining categories are 100% and 50-75% Iberian breed, acorn-fed.
In the case of the American company Iberian Pastures, it has replaced the Spanish acorns with walnuts and peanuts, since these nuts are produced in the area where the pigs are raised. In addition, they point out that the pigs like this type of feed and that it has a higher oleic content than the acorn.
On the use of the term "Iberian"
In 2016, the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture received a request to protect the term "Iberian" and reserve it for products produced within Spanish territory, however, no action was taken as a result of this request. For now, this doesn't represent a greater risk since these are small, local companies in the US that are just beginning to venture into the Iberian sector. On the other hand, if other countries with even more ambition want to begin producing Iberian products in their territory, by raising either grain/acorn fed pigs, the Spanish market could be put in a bad position.
Another important point has to do with the fact that a large part of the pigs produced on Spanish land are not pure Iberian pigs, but the result of crossbreeding with the Duroc pig, which is actually American. This brings us to the question - why can't the same thing be done in other countries: import animals to cross them with national breeds? However, there are other factors at play besides breed when it comes to the viability of production. In Morocco, for example, which has thousands of hectares of meadowlands, a company tried to breed Iberian pigs and then slaughter them in Spain, however after years of trying these measures were not ultimately successful.
New producers in charge of exclusive products
There is a question as to what impact these small emerging American companies will have, with a production of a few hundred animals in the case of Iberian Pastures and a few thousand in the case of Akornseekers, taking into account the strict inspections that slaughterhouses must go through in order to be allowed to export Iberian meat. Additionally, what will the experience be like for new consumers who have no point of reference and try this type of product for the first time that is associated with exclusivity and high quality, but having purchased it from producers who lack the necessary experience?
Pilot experience, results are pending
Taking into account the fact that the breeding times for pigs and the subsequent production of their derivatives requires about 8 to 10 years, there is enough time to develop a business plan in the Iberian pig sector. One of the most crucial steps is the curing process, and the question is: will the same product be obtained in the case of pigs that were fed with nuts other than acorns and that contain a greater proportion of oleic fatty acids? What is the maturation period required in these cases? The conditions required for these meats could be different to those established by Spanish companies.
Once again, one of the main risks is the loss of new consumers in emerging markets that delve into the Iberian world with products derived from pigs that have been bred outside of Spanish territory. However, those responsible for production in the USA have guaranteed that the taste of their products is comparable to that of any Spanish Iberian ham, and that only expert tasters would be able to tell the difference.
American entrepreneurs have a gigantic market to conquer. They have completely ruled out trying to compete in Spain, which is the birthplace of the Iberian product, and instead their ambition is directed at markets with great volume and potential like Asia and maybe even Latin America. Only time will tell just how successful these companies will be, along with others that join them along the way. If this emerging business really takes off, the Spanish Iberian market could be put in jeopardy.
Cured Sausages: Origin, Composition and Classification
Cured, dry sausages have existed ever since salt has been used to preserve food. These foods were described starting in the year 3000 BC; in Egypt where seasoned foods (meats and fish, for example) were sold. At that time, salt was expensive and rare because the Egyptians had to obtain it from the deserts and from the Jews in the Red Sea.
If we go back even further in time, the prehistoric man would cut the meat into thin strips and let it dry in the sun to preserve it. On other occasions, the meat was pulverised and mixed with fat. Later, with the discovery of fire, the number of different options for preserving meat increased, taking advantage of the benefits of cooking and smoke.
If we situate ourselves in more recent times, during the 15th century, animals were raised outside of the cities, killed in meat cutting rooms and their pieces were later sold to butchers. But with pigs it was a different story: they were raised in villages, killed in the streets and the families prepared the cured meats. A tradition that is still maintained as of today in some Spanish towns.
It wasn't until after the mid-nineteenth century when meat processing evolved and began to be industrialised, thus facilitating trade and the movement of goods. In addition, in this period, the use of different condiments in the preparation of cured meats resurfaced.
There's no question that cured meats have existed since very distant times. Another example comes from the ninth century BC, where Homer describes the consumption of blood sausages in his poem The Odyssey, making reference to guts stuffed with blood and fat that were roasted over fire. In other classical Greek works, there is mention of ham, bacon and cured sausages, as in the case of a comedy by Aristophanes, where one of the main characters was described with a jar full of chorizos.
An anecdote worth remembering is that of the astronaut Pedro Duque, who took chorizo with him on his journey to space. Another story is that of Alfonso XII, Spanish king between 1874 and 1885, who was a fan of salchichón sausage, in particular the salchichón from the city of Vic, and the story goes that every time he visited the city, he had to do three things: visit the bishop, go to the cathedral and go to the salchichón factory.
Throughout history, the cured sausage has evolved, adapting to the demands of the era and eventually to modern times, in which it now relies on the use of different technological advances for its production.
Composition and Classification of Cured Sausages
Meat products refer to all food products that are prepared in whole or in part with meat or with offal from species that are authorised in the Spanish Food Code (CAE) for this purpose and that are subjected to specific processes prior to consumption. The sausages are prepared using minced meats, then they either do or do not undergo a curing process, with or without the addition of edible offal and pork fat, vegetable products, seasonings and spices, and then are finally introduced into a natural or artificial casing. In addition, the sausages can be fresh, marinated, smoked, cured, salted, etc. In short, there is a wide range of products that can be obtained from pork and other meats.
Cured Sausages and Meat Products: Qualities and Requirements
1.- Meats: they usually come from pigs or cattle, although other species can be used. In some cases, religious restrictions determine the type of meat that is used.
The meats must have the following characteristics:
Pork is the type of meat that offers the best flavour and texture; the meat must be lean and firm, and should not come from pigs that are used for reproduction.
- Enable the growth of microorganisms needed for maturation.
- Be subjected to an appropriate refrigeration temperature that guarantees the consistency of the piece and allows for clean cuts.
- Be rich in pigments that provide the characteristic colour.
- Have a maximum pH of 6.2.
2.- Fats: basic component of all cured sausages, their absence would lead to a product with a hard consistency, bad taste, little or no juiciness, etc. The fat can be part of the mass of the sausage itself as a result of its infiltration into the meat, or added in the form of fat, rinds, etc. In addition, fat is essential because it has a positive effect on the sausage's sensory and organoleptic qualities. The fatty acids infiltrate the flesh, making it juicier and lightening its colour; they also influence the product's maturation, taste and final consistency. It should be noted that the fat used must be hard, since soft fats accelerate the process of the product turning rancid.
3.- Water: contributes to the paste mixture and reduces the amount of heat during the manufacturing process, neutralising the heat generated by the friction of the blades when cutting the meat, which may cause protein denaturation. The allowed percentage of moisture is anywhere from 30 to 45%.
4.- Sugars: they are used to flavour and mask the taste of the salt; they also favour the penetration of the agents that are responsible for the product's salting.
5.- Starches: they improve the consistency of the mixture and come from wheat, corn, rice and starch flours. They act as thickeners, preservatives and stabilisers. Likewise, they also act as activators of some of the agents that are involved in the product's maturation.
6.- Salt: flavouring used for the blandness of the fats and meats, in addition to acting as a preservative that protects against contamination by microorganisms.
7.- Food additives (approved by the CAE): they make it possible to obtain improvements in the production process and preservation of the products. Additives can be natural or artificial and must be explicitly authorised by food legislation, even in regards to their quantities and handling, thus guaranteeing a final product that is safe for consumption.
Some of the additives used are:
7.1.- Preservatives: they increase the food's shelf life and help to preserve its quality for long periods of time, in addition to its hygienic and organoleptic properties. Antimicrobial preservatives prevent the proliferation of harmful microorganisms that can alter the food and in some cases cause poisoning. In the case of nitrates and nitrites, in addition to protecting against botulism, they provide cured sausages with their characteristic red colour.
7.2.- Antioxidants: used to prevent the rancidity of fats and the oxidation of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D and E. They help to accelerate the reddening and colouring of the sausages, they inhibit the growth of bacteria, improve the product's taste or enhance its preservation. Likewise, they help with the curing process and affect the texture and homogeneity of the cooked pieces.
7.3.- Dyes: they are added to improve the appearance of the product or to recover any loss of colour that may occur during the production process.
7.4.- Others: sweeteners (used in low-calorie foods), stabilisers, emulsifiers (they enable the product's cohesion and prevent its components from separating), flavour enhancers, acidulants, thickeners and gelling agents, enzymes, etc.
8.- Condiments and spices: they are used to create a wide variety of different sausages. Mixtures of various spices are often used. When added in small quantities, certain spices such as pepper, thyme, rosemary or garlic offer antioxidant properties in addition to providing aroma and flavour.
Classification of cured sausages according to ingredients, condiments and processing
A natural casing is used in traditional "pure" sausages of medium-sized production, and come from different parts of the digestive system and bladder of cows, sheep, swine and horses, among others. It is produced in authorised industries in which the relevant sanitary processes are implemented. When the animal is sacrificed, the digestive system is removed and the large and small intestine are separated. They are washed inside and out to remove the intestinal mucosa, they are sterilised and their length and diameter are measured to later be stored with preservatives (lactic acid). This type of casing is edible, permeable to water and smoke, fragile and uneven in diameter and length.
An artificial casing, on the other hand, is obtained in registered industries through different manufacturing processes with different authorised materials. It is manufactured from animal tissues or materials derived from cellulose. It is used in the products that come from large manufacturers where, in addition to quality, its resistance, flexibility and homogeneous size is also essential. This last quality, as well as the ease with which it can be separated into several parts, are two of the biggest advantages offered when compared to the use of natural casings.
Artificial casings can be:
1.- Made of collagen: the most natural of all artificial casings. Its similarity to a natural casing in terms of fibres and porosity allows the sausages to be cured and preserved as if they were in a natural casing. The larger the size of this type of casing, the greater its thickness. In addition, this casing must be removed before eating the product. It is used for dry, cured and smoked sausages. During the curing process, the casing adheres perfectly to the product because it shrinks at the same time as the meat. It is ideal to be used with salchichón, fuet, blood sausages, chorizos, sobrasada, chistorra and salami. The most resistant type is used for pork loins, smoked dried beef and pancetta.
2.- Fibrous cellulose material: more resistant than collagen; used for sausages subjected to maximum pressure, for cooked and cured sausages (salamis, pepperonis, salchichón and all kinds of sliced, thicker sausages).
3.- Made of polyamide: waterproof and heat-shrinkable, used for sausages that are subjected to high pressure (pâtés, hot dogs) and speed, comes in different sizes.
Finally, in the case of cold cuts, they must be properly moulded and protected from the outside by thin sheets of fat, cellophane, or other authorised or canned materials, contained in animal membranes or any other type of authorised enclosure.
Production of Hams and Pork Shoulder Hams
In this and the following post, we will review the different processes involved in producing the star of Spanish cooking. There are several different steps that take place over the course of several months, and that occur between the time when the pig arrives at the slaughterhouse to the moment when the high-quality Iberian ham is finally obtained.
The main stages in the processing of a ham are: salting, washing, post-salting, drying and maturation in the cellar, which are monitored by a ham master in order to guarantee an excellent product that is considered to be a true delicacy around the world.
To begin with, the raw material must come from animals that have been declared fit for human consumption. To receive this distinction, the pigs must go through a rigorous sanitary inspection process both when they are alive and after their death. Additionally, care is taken to make sure the pieces are uniform. Now we will proceed to describe the phases that are needed for the ham's transformation and later consumption.
The goods that have been previously cut at the slaughterhouse (which must be properly identified by means of a plastic earring/tag according to applicable regulations and traceability protocols, as well as a specific badge if they are protected by a Designation of Origin), are received by the producers in a reception room. The animals must also be slaughtered and handled under conditions that prevent any alterations in the pH of the meat, which should be between 5.2 and 6.2. The transport temperature required by legislation is 7ºC for refrigerated meats and -12ºC for frozen meats.
Without breaking the cold chain, the pieces are deposited in a chamber to be stabilised at the same temperature (0 to 3ºC). Then we proceed to shape the piece that will be used to produce the cured ham; this process consists of removing fat and skin with a knife to obtain a product of a certain shape and proportions. In the case of Iberian ham, a V-shape or "Serrano" cut is made, while in the case of a Huelva shoulder ham, a crescent cut is also allowed.
Let's quickly go over the types of shaping or cutting of the skin:
- V-Cut: when the skin goes from the elbow to the centre of the ham and forms a V shape.
- Crescent cut: when the skin is cut into a half-moon shape.
- Beveled or round cut: when all the skin is left on the piece.
The classification of the pieces according to their weight is done with a sorting machine; the pieces are selected to be placed in three or more categories according to their weight in kilograms (kg). The sorting machine consists of a weighing module and a sorting conveyor, with pneumatically operated gates through which the pieces pass until they reach an area where they are grouped based on their weight. This weighing system is made of continuous stainless steel. By means of an electronic control box, the number of pieces and total weight can be obtained by sorting and transport unit.
Prior to salting, the piece is sealed with fire on the rind (MAPA seal - Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food), using three figures to indicate the week and year of entry into salt. Once sealed, the bleeding process is carried out, which consists of manually compressing the femoral artery and saphenous vein to empty all of the blood. In some cases, the piece can be bled using weights or rollers. Salting plays a fundamental role from a hygienic point of view, since the salt acts as a bacteriostatic agent and thus inhibits the proliferation of bacteria inside of the piece.
Then the salting process begins. In this phase, the hams are covered with salt to initiate their dehydration and preservation. The objective is to ensure that the salt reaches the centre and is distributed evenly throughout the piece, thus ensuring a high-quality final product. The time and distribution of the salt is done according to the weight of the piece, as well as the breed and feeding of the pig. In general, grain-fed pigs have less fat infiltration and absorb the salt faster than acorn-fed pigs, meaning they need to spend less time in the salting phase. The estimated amount of time is usually 1 day/kg for Iberian ham, and somewhat shorter for grain-fed, white label ham.
In this phase, the salt used for Iberian ham is thick sea salt, while fine salt is used for grain-fed ham, in addition to a specific amount of nitrification. The salting is done by stacking the pieces in layers, in containers or on the ground, where the first layer would be salt, the second layer ham, and so on and so forth until you reach a final layer of salt. It is carried out in chambers with a temperature of 3-4ºC, high relative humidity (80-90%) and static cooling in the container system and dynamic cooling or with fans if the hams are on the ground. This process is controlled through the use of a salinometer, which measures salinity. When the marker indicates the optimum point, for example, 75-82 for acorn-fed ham or 86 for Serrano ham, the piece will be ready to move on to the next phase. Once this phase is reached, the shrinkage or loss of liquid is usually 10%.
The objective of this phase is to remove the salt from the surface of the ham. Once the salting is complete, the containers are transferred to an area where the salt is separated from the piece; the salt is collected to be reused later on in the salting of other pieces. The salt that is lost through use is renewed with new salt that attaches to the "old" salt, which is analysed every month to check for the absence of pathogens that could be harmful to health.
Washing is done mechanically, the piece enters the machine on a belt where the surface salt is removed through the application of pressurised air. Subsequently, the piece receives a bath from hot water jets to then continue towards another machine where it is shaped and lengthened by means of a pressure system that guarantees a better appearance that will be the same for both ham legs and shoulder hams. This shaping is recommended to be done as soon as possible after the washing, since any delay in time risks fracturing the bone and having synovial fluid leak out, which would spoil the quality of the piece. If the salting is done without containers, the washing is done manually with a brush and occasionally with hot water. Once washed, the piece is bled once again and hangs on stainless steel hangers with plastic or rope rings to start the post-salting process.
Post-Salting or Resting
In this stage, the salt is distributed evenly inside of the piece, and the water is slowly and progressively eliminated from the inside out. This process is carried out in a chamber with a relative humidity of 75-80% and an initial temperature of approximately 3ºC, which will gradually increase until reaching 12-16ºC at the end of the stage. These parameters are controlled by a programmed ventilation system, with an optimum power of around 65-75%.
An excess of air would accelerate the maturation process, while a deficit of air coupled with very high humidity would cause the appearance of "remelo", which is defined as areas of a pasty consistency with specific odours on the surface of the piece that allow for bacterial growth, in both cases the final quality of the product would be negatively affected.
The minimum amount of time spent in this phase is approximately 60 to 90 days, and may even be extended to 120 days; it all depends on the characteristics of the piece, which is mainly determined by its fat content, which is essentially what determines the penetration of the salt.
The production process could end in this chamber in what would be called the "complete or artificial drying cycle". On the other hand, in the traditional method, the piece is placed in a chamber and then subjected to a natural drying process for a period of 18 months and then finishes its maturation in the cellar for at least one additional year or year and a half. As an interesting fact, it's at this stage when the piece acquires greater external consistency and when the biochemical processes that are responsible for its aroma and flavour are initiated.
In this phase, the product continues to gradually dehydrate and the fat continues "sweating". This process favours the diffusion between the muscle fibres and the consolidation of the piece's aromas. It can be done with equipment that controls temperature and humidity, and even though its use is infrequent, an oven can be used in order to shorten the process (raise the temperature to 30ºC and lower the humidity to 60-65%). In the event that this stage is done naturally, the drying is carried out using natural ventilation that uses a system of adjustable windows as needed and sometimes can be divided up to facilitate air flow.
The microclimate is also of vital importance, especially in regards to the Denominations of Origin, since according to product's characteristics, the organoleptic parameters (colour, texture, smell and taste) will be defined that are specific to the product under a certain Denomination of Origin. For example, in Jabugo there are specific thermo-hygrometric conditions that exist (environmental/physical conditions related to temperature, humidity and ventilation), since there is dry cold in winter with low humidity. In addition, in order to facilitate air flow during the drying phase, the pieces are arranged at different heights within the same pallet.
The time spent in the natural dryer ranges anywhere between 6 to 8 months, during which the piece sweats and greenish or whitish areas appear on its surface that are the product of the microbial flora that appears during the maturation process.
Maturation in Cellar
In this last stage, the biochemical processes (proteolysis and lipolysis) are completed, which are responsible for the peculiar flavour and aroma of the product. Both the dryer and the cellar should allow for the execution of all necessary operations, and should have qualified personnel who can control the handling and combination of factors such as microclimate, altitude, humidity, temperature variations and air speed, since the final quality of the product is dependent on them.
The piece reaches the cellar with flora (greenish substance) from the dryer, so the first step is to eliminate it by means of an automatic or manual brushing system, and subsequently a film of Iberian lard or oil will be applied, in order to prevent it from being invaded by mites. Once this operation is completed, the piece is hung once again and left to drain until the ageing process is complete, which depending on the type of product, will take nine months or a year in the case of grain-fed pigs, and two years or more in the case of acorn-fed pigs. The approximate amount of time needed to produce an acorn-fed ham is three years, of which one is spent in the dryer and the other two in the cellar. At the end of all these processes, depending on the amount of blood, the piece's weight will be reduced by 33 to 35% on average.
Once the maturation phase has ended, the product is finished and can be stored or handled (deboned, sliced or packaged). Before serving the pieces, a tool made of bone or a long piece of sharp wood is used to check the quality of the piece, after which it is weighed, labeled and packed to be transported and sold.
These are all of the different stages that the pieces of ham go through in order to become the world-renowned culinary delicacy that they are, which make our mouths water with their exceptional taste, even more so if we are lucky enough to be trying the best out there: a leg from a pure black Iberian pig.
If you've worked up an appetite after reading everything we've discussed, in our online store you can find hams and other products for sale. It's not every day that we get to treat ourselves, so why not start today?
Iberian Ham Tasting Guide
Before reaching the consumer, it's highly likely that a group of experts have already subjected the ham to a tasting process based on a set of established quality criteria. The tasting is carried out by a committee of experts in sensory analysis, composed of judges, experts and a jury or panel of selected tasters, who have been trained and educated in order to participate. There are rules that exist in order to systematise the analysis, which has three phases: visual and tactile (appearance and texture), olfactory (differentiating smells) and gustatory (taste).
The samples are coded and the results from the tasting are written on a sheet with the corresponding scores for each of the different characteristics. The total sum of points is what determines the final quality of the product. Now let's review a few concepts associated with a ham tasting.
What are the phases of an Iberian ham tasting?
Visual and tactile phase
First off, the general shape of the piece is evaluated. The ham is evaluated before it is cut, taking into account its shape, size, size of the ankle, appearance of the hoof or appearance of the rind and any irregularities it may have. The following aspects are looked at:
Then the fat is evaluated. As many already know, the Iberian pig is a species that accumulates a high content of fat that is found in subcutaneous (bacon), intermuscular (butter) and intramuscular (marbling) deposits. Its composition is determined by the pig's diet, as pigs fed under a "montanheira" system, that eat acorns and grass, have a high content of unsaturated fats. Thus, the following is evaluated:
- Shape: it must be elongated or slender, pieces that are wide in the rear are penalised.
- Cut of the skin: it is usually triangular, with about half of the piece measured from the hoof being free of skin.
- Size and weight: between 6 and 8 kg. A lower weight means a younger pig with little fat infiltration. Very heavy pieces correspond to older pigs or a questionable breed.
- Hooves: no deformities. They must be equal and will be penalised if the inner hoof is shorter than the outer one, since any wear and tear of this type may indicate that the animal had been stabled.
- Ankle: usually very thin.
- Bevelling or correct shaping.
The intense yellow of the piece on the outer layer indicates a long maturation process. Fluidity and elasticity are symptoms of a high presence of unsaturated fats, the result of a diet rich in essential unsaturated fatty acids. The shiny appearance at room temperature is another indication of a good diet. On the other hand, inner fat that is completely white would be indicative of a short maturation period.
- Inner and outer fat.
- The fat must be abundant, fluid and yellow on the surface of the piece.
- White or pink with a faint yellow tint on the inner layers. A certain amount of pink colouration is indicative of quality. When you cut the fat, you can see the progression of the colour, which goes from yellow on the outside to pink, and then eventually turns white.
To finish this phase, the experts proceed to evaluate the lean meat. The main aspects to consider are:
- Colour: hams that have more intense and darker reds are better classified. This indicates that the pig has received an acorn-based diet and has received good muscular exercise during the "montanheira" grazing period.
- Shininess: at room temperature, part of the fat is in a liquid state, coming to the surface when the ham is cut and quickly acquiring the characteristic shininess that is so highly valued in acorn-fed ham.
- Marbling: symbol of quality that comes from the intramuscular fat that can be seen immediately upon cutting the ham.
- Tyrosine crystals: amino acids in crystalline form, product of protein degradation, observed as white spots that appear in the ham. They are indicative of an optimal and prolonged curing and maturation process.
The first thing to evaluate in this phase is the smell. The components are: intensity (strength of the stimulus), description of the smell and its persistence. This is done by breathing in directly over the sample and is evaluated as medium, low or high. The following descriptions can be considered:
Overall, the ham must produce strong, quality olfactory sensations. A high quality ham emanates intense and pleasant smells. Acorn-fed ham has an odour that does not need any comparing, it has it's own unique smell that is not found in any other ham or meat product.
- Positive smells: acorn, nuts, burnt/toasted sugar, cellar and rancid.
- Negative smells: fat/oily, moisture, mould, fish, fresh meat, blood, very rancid, ammonia or drugs.
As for aroma, it is perceived indirectly. The expert chews the sample for a few seconds and then opens the mouth slightly, breathing in an amount of air that reaches the nose through the retronasal route, detecting stimuli and aromas.
Persistence refers to the sensation that remains in the mouth after chewing and ingesting the slice of ham. Depending on how long it lasts, it is classified as weak (3 seconds), medium (10-15 seconds) or high (more than 30 seconds).
Aftertaste is defined as the olfactory-gustatory sensation that appears after having swallowed the ham and that differs from the sensations perceived when the ham was in the mouth.
Currently, to name the complex olfactory sensation that is perceived through the nostrils and the palate when chewing, experts have coined the term "flavour", which is evaluated according to:
The texture is also analysed while chewing. The texture of the fat in Iberian ham has qualities that distinguish it from other breeds, with a very soft texture that is much better compared to other hams. The fluidity of the fat is also greater due to the high lipid concentration.
- Intensity and quality based on the large quantity of volatile and odorous substances that are released during the maturation period.
- Persistence or permanence of the aroma once the food has disappeared from the mouth. The lasting aromas with rancid and spicy nuances are very characteristic of the Iberian ham and come from the ham's curing process.
- Cured aroma, which arises as a direct consequence of the use of natural nitrites and nitrates in the salt during the production process.
- Rancidity, to a certain degree, is considered positive provided it is accompanied by other intense aromas like that of acorns and curing.
On the other hand, the following is evaluated in the texture of the lean meat:
Dryness: determines the degree of wateriness in the ham. The temperature, relative humidity, curing process and weight of the piece significantly influence its water content. The ideal humidity is less than 45%.
Finally, the flavour or taste is evaluated, which is the set of olfactory and gustatory properties that are perceived during the tasting. The most well-known flavours are:
- Fibrosity: determines the tendency of the slice to separate into fibres and their resistance to losing structure. It depends on the amount of intramuscular fat and bundles of muscle fibres. Iberian ham, due to the high rates of intramuscular fat, should provide a sensation of low fibrosity.
- Juiciness: moisture during chewing plus the effect of the fat on saliva flow are the two factors that make up the juiciness sensation. The greater the juiciness of the piece, the better the ham's quality.
- Hardnesss: hardness when chewing is very closely related to fibrosity and the amount of fat infiltration. Too much hardness is negative, although a certain degree is appreciated in order to increase chewing time and to favour and stimulate the secretion of saliva.
- Salty: salt content that is not too high from the nutritional and sensory point of view, and not too low to allow for microbiological growth.
- Sweet: flavour provoked by the wide range of amino acids and sugar derivatives capable of producing a sweet sensation.
- Bitter: directly related to sweet, since many of the substances responsible for the sweet taste are also bitter.
- Acid: it is not common to find this flavour.
- Umami: considered to be the fifth flavour; present in foods that are rich in monosodium glutamate and is comparable to the taste of meat.
What other factors intervene in the final sensory quality?
Genetics, breeding and type of diet. The breed and intensive or extensive production method, as well as whether or not the pig is castrated, are all factors that are closely tied to sensorial quality. The same goes for the feeding model: free-range and acorn-fed, free-range and grain-fed, or commercially reared grain-fed pigs. In the extensive system, feeding is usually based on grass and acorn during the final fattening phase, which has a significant influence on the type and percentage of intramuscular fat and positively contributes to the aroma and the appearance of pleasant aromatic notes, and a more reddish colour of the meat.
Weight and age at slaughter: Being slaughtered later on at a higher weight produces hardness in the meat; something that also occurs with castrated pigs.
Slaughter. Slaughtering the pig in towns that are located close to the meadows where they have been raised is essential in preventing or minimising the stress produced by transporting the animals, which significantly impairs the final result and the excellent quality of the Iberian ham.
Quality: Differential Elements Between Ham and Iberico Cured Meats
There is often confusion among consumers regarding Iberian products and a lack of knowledge when it comes to the different designations currently used as quality standards. For example, we see how consumers generally use the terms "Iberian ham" and "acorn-fed ham" as synonyms, assuming that the same product is referenced in both cases.
The designation "Iberian", which can be applied to products from animals that have been crossed with other breeds according to current regulations, coupled with expansion of grain-fed products, has led to the coexistence of products derived from animals as different as pure, acorn-fed Iberian pigs (that are traditionally raised free-range in the meadowlands), and crossbred grain-fed pigs (that are commercially reared in large scale production). Products with very different characteristics and qualities are obtained from both types of animals.
Products from intensive and extensive systems
For several years, there has been a clear predominance in the market of products that come from intensive, grain-fed pig farming (of inferior quality), animals that are raised in pens or in closed warehouses, which contrasts with the sustained balance that is found in the extensive farming of acorn-fed and grain-fed pigs that roam free.
The extensive farming system is closely tied to the rural environment and is conditioned by a specific quantity of livestock that maintains this environmental balance. In this case, production is limited and the products obtained in this system are therefore defined as exclusive, with their own organoleptic characteristics and high-quality attributes. As an additional fact, fewer products are being sold in recent years that come from free-range grain-fed animals, with the trend heading towards their disappearance from the market.
Confusion among consumers
Representatives of the traditional sector state that the generalisation of the term "Iberian", which also groups animals that are crossed with other breeds such as the Duroc pig, generates a lot of confusion among consumers. Currently, in compliance with current regulations and as indicated in previous entries, Iberian products are grouped into the following categories which can be identified according to an assigned colour on the seal:
Additionally, when choosing and differentiating the pieces, different factors should be taken into account such as the observation of basic morphological aspects such as the slenderness of the animal's leg, the black hoof or the piece's slim silhouette, in addition to the details on the labelling that, among other things, should reflect the breed of the animal that the product comes from, the breeding and feeding method used, etc. The Denominations of Origin (DO), Protected Geographical Indications (PGI) and specific denominations also act as important guarantees in the case of products of an even higher quality.
- Black seal: product from 100% Iberian pigs fed with acorns. This product is called "black leg".
- Red seal: from animals fed with acorns and that are between 50 and 70% Iberian, this percentage must be specified on the product label.
- Green seal: product from animals that are between 50 and 100% Iberian, fed with grains (outdoors); the breed percentage must be specified on the product label.
- White label: product from pigs fed with grain that are between 50 and 75% Iberian, this percentage must be specified on the product label.
Which is the best ham?
The best ham in the world, of the highest quality and the most frequently imitated is the ham that is produced in "montanera" in some regions of Spain, where a number of exclusive factors come together to make this product a reality: meadowlands with acorns, pigs from the Iberian breed, and natural conditions pertaining to a special microclimate that are essential to the ham's curing process. All of this allows producers to obtain a unique product, considered by some to be one of the four aces of Western cuisine along with truffles, foie gras and caviar, which can easily be set apart from the rest due to its quality, sensory properties and nutritional benefits, in addition to its higher cost. We're talking about one of the most representative, exclusive and valuable foods of Spain's cuisine and the Mediterranean diet, a title that is well deserved.
Other aspects to consider
- Let's talk about the term "black leg". Traditionally, this term has been used as a synonym for Iberian ham, but this is not always the case. In fact, there are non-Iberian breeds that have a black hoof and leg. In addition, not all Iberian pigs have a black hoof.
The colour of the hoof, just like its hardness, depends on the amount of keratin and the melanin content, which depends on the pig's breed and diet, and also has an impact on its quality. It is for this reason that, for example, the leg of an acorn-fed Iberian pig that is produced in the appropriate way will tend to provide the highest quality ham.
- Differences between Jabugo ham and Iberian ham: In essence, there are no significant differences between them, except for slight nuances, since both come from Iberian pigs. Jabugo ham is considered to be a high-quality Iberian ham, regardless of whether or not it has received the the "Jamón de Huelva" DO. Due to its popularity and high cost, some believe that it comes from ham of a special breed, but this is not the case.
The best products come from purebred Iberian pigs, which were once a local variant of a breed from the area, the "spotted Jabugo", which is characterised by having light skin with the presence of black and red spots that are spread out unevenly. This breed is in danger of extinction and its breeding requires certain care, which also has an effect on the product's elevated cost.
- The flavour of the slices of ham versus that of a shoulder ham. It is the same, the difference in price between both products is due to the fact that the proportion of meat in the ham (hind leg of the pig) is greater than that present in the shoulder (front leg of the animal).
The Map of Ham in Spain
The importance of Iberian ham in Spanish cuisine is undeniable, it is one of the country's most emblematic products. The quality of the ham depends on its breed, how it is raised and its diet, therefore it is important to know the different areas of Spain that produce Iberian ham as well as other types such as Serrano ham, which also play an importante role in Spanish food.
If we look at the differences between the different types of ham and the areas in Spain where they are produced, we end up with a distribution map that shows the different geographical areas responsible for their production. This is what we will focus on here.
Before getting into the different production areas, first we need to review a few related concepts:
- Denomination of Origin (D.O.): used as a name that identifies a product originating from a specific place, region or, in very few cases, a country, with a specific quality or characteristics that are fundamentally or exclusively the result of a particular geographical environment, along with the natural and human factors inherent to it, and whose production phases take place entirely within the defined geographical areas.
- Protected Geographical Indication (P.G.I): used as a name that identifies a product originating from a particular place, region or country, that possesses a certain quality, reputation or other characteristics that can essentially be attributed to its geographical origin, and for which at least one of its production phases takes place within the defined geographical area.
The main difference between both terms is that in the case of a product covered by a P.G.I., it is not mandatory for all phases to have been carried out within the same geographical area; it only requires at least one. In the case of the D.O., all phases of production must be carried out within the geographical area.
The D.O.'s are used to add value to a product, providing, among other things, transparency as to its origin and production. Thanks to this denomination, it is possible to confirm which land a piece of ham comes from and that it has been produced in a traditional way, thus guaranteeing its quality.
It is important to remember that some pigs are raised and fattened in areas that are covered by a D.O., however they do not belong to it; this does not mean that they are of a lesser quality, but that there is no guarantee as to the controls and protection that the products from the different D.O.'s are subjected to, therefore consumers usually prefer to buy certified products.
Iberian Ham Denominations of Origin (D.O.)
There are 4 D.O.'s that protect Iberian ham and that correspond to four regions in which production takes place, they are:
Let's look at each of them:
- Jamón de Jabugo, in the province of Huelva.
- Jamón Dehesa de Extremadura, produced in Cáceres and Badajoz.
- Jamón de Guijuelo, produced in the province of Salamanca.
- Jamón de los Pedroches, produced in the province of Córdoba.
D.O. Jamón de Jabugo
This D.O. was formerly known as D.O. Jamón de Huelva. Its hams are some of the most famous due to their high quality, and for many people "Jabugo Ham" is synonymous with "Iberian Ham". These Iberian pigs are bred and fattened in the "dehesas" meadowlands of Huelva, Seville and Cádiz, although some also come from Cáceres, Badajos, Málaga or Córdoba, as long as the ham is prepared in the region of La Cierra de Aracena and the Picos de Arocha, in Huelva.
D.O. Jamón de la Dehesa de Extremadura
The "Dejesa de Extremadura" is the largest land of this type that exists in the world. Because Iberian pigs require at least one hectare or more per animal for proper feeding, this D.O. has the highest production of hams, shoulder hams and other cured meats. These hams are characterised by having a low amount of salt and pink flesh. This D.O. includes 45 municipalities in Cáceres and 40 municipalities in Badajoz.
These Spanish "dehesa" meadowlands give the hams produced in the province of Salamanca different properties as a result of the cold climate. This ham is characterised by its slightly salty flavour, with hints of a characteristic sweetness; the flesh is pink and the fat impresses with its beige/gold colour. This D.O. is applied to those products made from pigs that were raised and fattened in the meadowlands of Salamanca, although the pigs can also come from Toledo, Ávila, Segovia, Zamora, Seville, Huelva, Córdoba, Badajoz or Cáceres, as long as the production is carried out in the municipalities of Guijuelo.
D.O. Los Pedroches
This D.O. is characterised by its climate, located north of the province of Córdoba, grouping together 32 municipalities in the region. These hams are less fibrous than others and have a very juicy flesh with shiny fat. This D.O. applies to Iberian pigs that comply with certain regulations regarding their breed, diet and production process that is carried out in the "dehesa" meadowlands of the Sierra de Los Pedroches.
Denominations of Origin (D.O.) for Serrano ham produced in Spain
D.O. Jamón de Teruel
These products are famous among Serrano hams thanks to their quality, as they are delicate and slightly salty hams, with bright and yellowish/white fat, highly aromatic and with a pleasant flavour. The pigs that are used come from the Duroc breed for the father and the Landrace, Large White or a cross between breeds both for the mother. This D.O. marks its products with a star on the skin and the engraved word "Teruel". Their products usually are of a large size, over 7 kilos, and must be produced in the province of Teruel.
P.G.I. Jamón de Trevélez
These products are also known as hams from the Alpujarra Alta, since they are produced in areas of the mountains in the province of Granada, mainly in the municipalities of Trevélez, Capileira, Bérchules, Pórtugos and Busquistar. These hams weigh anywhere between 7 and 9 kilos, their flesh is a deep red colour with white/yellow fat, with a very sweet flavour.
P.G.I. Jamón de Serón
One unique characteristic of these hams is that once the curing process is finished, they are smeared in lard, which differentiates them from hams made in other regions. They are produced in the town of Serón, but the pigs can come from other areas as long as the breeds are Duroc, Landrace, Pietrain, Chato Murciano, Blanco Belga or Large White.
Other hams produced in Spain
Among the other hams with interesting characteristics is the Porco Celta, which is raised in Galicia and fed with chestnuts. Then there are also the hams that come from "capa negra" pigs that are not Iberian. As for the production method, it's worth highlighting the traditional hams from other regions that are covered and cured in paprika.
Now that we've described the different D.O.'s and I.G.P.'s that protect the Iberian and Serrano ham, which are classified based on breed, production area, and characteristics such as the type of feed, rearing and fattening, we can get a better idea of the differences between these types of ham and what they are attributed to.
Properties of the Fat in Iberian Ham
The fat content in ham frequently generates questions among the consumers of both high-quality Iberian ham and ham products of lesser quality. Some of their main questions include:
We will try to answer the main questions regarding the fat in ham, mainly Iberian ham, without trying to question those who choose to throw this important part of the product away, which provides flavour, texture and nutritional value. To start, fat infiltration in ham is a sign of quality, it gives it a special flavour that indicates the ham is in perfect condition to be eaten.
- Is there any benefit to consuming the fat in Iberian ham?
- Should the fat be removed from the ham before serving it?
- Is the fat from Iberian ham high in calories?
- Can people allergic to gluten eat ham?
What types of fat are found in Iberian ham?
To begin with, we need to differentiate between edible and non-edible fat. The edible fat is white or pinkish and is attached to the red meat, it has a very good flavour and it has a nice mouthfeel. If a slice of Iberian ham has a lot of this type of fat, it shouldn't be viewed as something negative, quite the opposite, seeing how it adds flavour and juiciness to the meat. This is especially the case with acorn-fed Iberian ham.
The fat from acorn-fed Iberian ham has a smooth texture. In fact, if you touch it with your finger, it will sink into it slightly. Thanks to the pig's acorn-based diet and the physical activity it carries out while it lives and feeds in the meadowlands, the fat infiltrates the meat and can be seen in the form of veins once the ham is cut. This gives the ham a much smoother and flavourful taste, coupled with greater nutritional properties when compared to other types of ham.
On the other hand, the inedible fat is yellow and surrounds the ham; this fat should be thrown away. With higher quality hams, there will be less of this kind of fat on the surface.
Are there differences between the fat in Iberian ham and that found in an Iberian shoulder ham?
The main difference between the fat from an Iberian ham and that in an Iberian shoulder ham is its proportion. In Iberian ham, the bone and inedible fat correspond to approximately 50% of the weight of the piece, while with the shoulder ham, this proportion reaches approximately 60%.
Is the fat in Iberian ham healthy?
The fat in Iberian ham is very healthy. Of all the fats that the acorn-fed Iberian ham contains, more than 70% are unsaturated, which are beneficial for our health. In fact, of all the hams that exist, the acorn-fed Iberian meat is the healthiest for the heart.
If we add to this the high protein content found in ham, its contribution of vitamins B1, B6, B12 and E, as well as the calcium minerals, phosphorus and magnesium, there is no doubt that Iberian ham is a highly nutritious and beneficial food. In addition, we should also point out its high iron content, which makes it a recommended product in cases of anemia.
Properties of the fat in Iberian ham
The calories found in ham, including the edible fat, is equivalent to that found in bread, approximately 250 kilocalories (kcal) per 100 grams (g) of product. This means that moderate amounts of Iberian ham can be included as a part of weight loss diet plans. In fact, some weight loss diets use Iberian ham as a central element.
Can the fat in Iberian ham affect blood cholesterol levels?
The fat in acorn-fed Iberian ham contains between 55% and 60% oleic acid, which helps to increase the good cholesterol (HDL) and reduce the bad one (LDL). In fact, the cholesterol level found in pork is lower than that of beef or lamb. Numerous scientific studies have shown that the oleic acid found in Iberian ham and other foods such as olive oil is actually heart-healthy.
Can people with gluten allergies eat Iberian ham?
People with celiac disease can eat Iberian ham safely, since ham and other cured meats do not contain gluten, as indicated by the Spanish Federation of Coeliac Associations (FACE). Additionally, during the curing, processing and shipping processes, Iberian products do not come into contact with any type of food that contains gluten, therefore people with celiac disease can enjoy these delicacies with complete freedom and safety.
What diets is Iberian ham used in?
As mentioned previously, Iberian ham is recommended in diets of people with anemia due to its high iron content, just like how its richness in oleic acid makes it a recommended product for diets aimed at reducing LDL cholesterol.
Additionally, Iberian ham can be placed in the diet to recover adequate levels of sodium in the blood if there is a deficiency of this electrolyte, a condition known as hyponatremia.
In the case of weight-loss diets, there are diets based on Iberian ham that have been prepared by nutrition experts. These diets allow for the daily intake of several slices of Iberian ham, in combination with different types of food, ensuring that the person loses weight while also maintaining a healthy heart.
On the other hand, in the case of weight-loss diets that are based on a high intake of proteins, like the Dukan diet, moderate amounts of Iberian ham can certainly be included, as this is a food that is rich in very high-quality proteins. In fact, in 100 grams of Iberian ham there are approximately 43 grams of protein. Additionally, thanks to the curing process, the proteins in the Iberian ham are hydrolysed, which allows them to be more easily digested compared to other types of meat.
Ways to cook with the fat from Iberian ham
The edible fat (white or pinkish) in Iberian ham is a fantastic resource when it comes to enriching dishes. The higher the quality of the ham, the softer and more flavourful the fat is. This fat can be easily melted by heating it up and can be used to fry grilled pork fillets or eggs, for example. It can also be used to make sautéed vegetables. The fat gives these dishes an exquisite touch.
The fat in Iberian ham can also be used to add more flavours to stews, as is done with bacon. In addition, the ham bone should not be thrown away as it can be used to make delicious soups and other types of dishes, as we talk about in the post titled "What we do with the bone?".
Among other options, you can make pork rinds by cutting the fat from the Iberian ham into small pieces and frying it in a pan. Lovers of toast can make an oil that's flavoured with the fat from Iberian ham; to do so, you can melt 500 g of fat on a low flame with 300 g of olive oil and 100 g of water until well blended. The toast will then obtain a subtle ham flavour.
How to Transport Iberian Ham and Other Foods on International Flights
When Spaniards go on vacation or travel abroad for work reasons, one of things they miss the most is ham, so it's not surprising that they sometimes want to take it with them to enjoy while away, or any other related product. When considering the option of taking it with them, the question arises: Can ham and other foods be transported when travelling abroad by plane?
The main restrictions on unchecked hand luggage refer to the transport of liquids, creams and gels. It is common knowledge that the maximum amount of liquids that can be taken through the security check is one litre, which must be distributed among containers that contain up to 100 ml each.
Just like with liquids, there are restrictions for some foods. Here we will share some information regarding the regulations on the subject, so we can know what we can and cannot carry on a plane as part of our carry-on or checked luggage, knowing in advance that the rules are different for travel within the European Union compared to trips to other countries outside of the EU, seeing how, among other reasons, the import or export of food may be prohibited in some destinations for health reasons.
Taking ham on an airplane with a foreign destination
Current regulations are quite strict in this regard. What applies to ham is also applied to other food products such as dairy and other meat products, because the entry of these perishable foods into a country presents the risk of transferring pathogens from the animals, which may be associated with diseases that represent a health threat in the country of destination.
a) Travelling to a country in the European Union
When the trip is within countries that are part of the European Union (EU), there is no problem when it comes to transporting the foods you want to take, however if your trip is destined for a country outside of the EU, you will need to review the country's legislation. However, generally speaking, this legislation tends to be restrictive and does not allow for the entry of cheeses, hams or other similar foods.
Similarly, when traveling to Spain or to another European territory, legislation prevents the entry of this type of food (meat and dairy products) that comes from non-EU countries, in order to protect its population from potential health threats.
There are some exceptions to this rule. When traveling to an EU country from a non-EU country such as Norway, San Marino, Faroe Islands, etc., small quantities of meat and dairy products are allowed, provided they are for individual consumption and that the food is not being exported for commercialisation. This information is usually found on posters at the different airports.
According to the provisions of aviation laws, other restrictions that refer to the transport of food in carry-on baggage refer to limitations on the size and weight that are established by each airline, in addition to those rules that are related to the transport of liquids (discussed in the introduction to this topic).
The specified measurements do not affect products that are purchased in EU airport stores, as long as these stores are located after the security check, or on the aircraft itself, nor do they affect the products that are placed in your checked luggage.
In conclusion, as a general rule, the introduction of animal products, meat, dairy, etc. is prohibited, except for those cases of private use or other special measurements as described above.
b) Travelling to a destination outside of the EU
In the case of trips to destinations outside of the EU, most restrictions prevent you from travelling with ham, sausages and similar foods for the reasons specified in the previous section. Even so, there are many people who vacuum-pack products and place them in their checked luggage, which doesn't usually end up being problematic as long as the quantities are not abused.
The other option, if you really want to eat ham during your trip, is to buy it at much higher prices in your destination country, where you'll most frequently find Italian Parma ham or Duroc hams, rather than Iberian ham.
When travelling to a country outside of the EU, it is a good idea to consult the legislation in the country of destination. In general, it is not allowed to bring any type of meat product in your carry-on luggage, however you can travel with vacuum-packed products if your suitcase is checked; however, it is always better to check the legislation in order to avoid problems.
Another recommendation would be to read the website of the embassy of the country you are travelling to, where you will find information on the nation and you can also check if they allow the entry of food products such as ham, cheese or chorizo, and see whether or not there are restrictions that apply.
There are countries like the United States which practically don't allow any food to be taken in. Bringing food to the United States can be a problem, even if the products are allowed. The security controls are so exhaustive that they can look through everything you are bringing, even if the objects or foods are not among their prohibited items.
Additionally, in the United States it is not allowed to bring in meat, not even canned products. On the other hand, you can take in chocolate, nougat, canned fish or even cured cheeses, as long as the total weight does not exceed five kilograms.
For the specific case of ham and other cured meats, in some countries the entry of this type of product is specifically regulated. In other countries, as is the case of Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and China, it is allowed to bring in this type of food, but Iberian ham is only permitted if it is vacuum packed, cut up or in slices, you can never bring a whole piece.
The case of Muslim countries is even more delicate, where you cannot introduce any product containing pork, so if one of these countries is your destination, then the ham will have to stay at home.
Special diets and food transportation
In the case of people with celiac disease, food intolerances or those who travel with children and need to bring pediatric food, it is allowed to transport liquids in your carry-on baggage that will be used during the trip (including the outward flight, your stay and the return flight) due to special dietary needs.
In these cases, the passenger must take out and show the products; they will have to be examined separately at the security check, with it also being necessary to carry a document that justifies the need to carry these foods, such as a medical certificate where the disease, intolerance or special condition is indicated.
With all of these recommendations, we must make sure to inform ourselves and pay attention to the rules if there is any special food that we can't go without. In any case, the main risk associated with transporting food is that they'll be detected and confiscated before your departure or at your destination. You should take all of this into account in future trips.
Prevalence of Pathogens and Benefits of Organic Acids in Pig Production
Several studies have shown that the prevalence of different microorganisms varies depending on the stage of production. In addition, it has been widely suggested that supplementation with organic acids in animal feed can improve growth performance without the need for antibiotics in weaned piglets.
During the 25th International Pig Veterinary Society Congress (IPVS), which took place last June in ChonQuing, China, Dr Juan Antonio Mesonero Escuredo, who was the Global Director of the Pig Intestinal Health Programmes at Trouw Nutrition, presented the interesting results from two important research studies on pigs conducted by Trouw Nutrition, a leading company in speciality feed services, premixes and nutrition in the animal nutrition industry.
Currently, producers from around the world are looking to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal feed. In this regard, research suggests an integrated approach that takes into account the specific risks of microorganisms, incorporating the food-farm-health axis as the main basis for helping producers to achieve their objectives in terms of reducing the use of antibiotics, without compromising the performance of their products.
The type of transmission of pathogenic microorganisms within a litter can be influenced by the production stage
The researchers at Trouw Nutrition examined the patterns of eliminating pathogens in the different production stages (sows, piglets and fattening pigs) and reviewed the prevalence or absence of eight pathogens and their virulence factors, which were: Escherichia coli F4, F5, F18 and F41, Cryptosporidium, Rotavirus, Clostridium difficile and Clostridium perfringens.
In all productions stages, Clostridium perfringens was found to be the most prevalent pathogen, being detected in 60% of the sows, 73% of the weaned piglets and in 69% of the growing pigs. For statistical purposes, it should be pointed out that all of these animals were randomly selected, evaluating fecal samples at the rectal level.
Although this study could not establish causal relationships, the results suggest that sows can serve as sources of infection for Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli F5 and Cryptosporidium; on the other hand, weaned piglets can serve as a potential source of Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli F41 and Clostridium difficile; while the fattening pigs that end up in the producer, just like with the sows, can serve as a source of infection for Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli F5 and Cryptosporidium. In view of the fact that diseases of the gastrointestinal tract generate large losses throughout the food industry, identifying opportunities to prevent the spread of pathogenic microorganisms in a pig litter can help maintain the health, viability and profitability of pigs.
Replacing antibiotics in pastures with organic acids can improve growth and the immune response of weaned piglets
According to additional observations, Dr Mesonero Escuredo presented an investigation that delves into how the replacement of antibiotics with pasture additives composed of mixtures of organic acids used in animal feed can affect the growth performance and immune response of weaned piglets.
In this controlled study, the researchers assigned 28-day-old weaned piglets to a negative control group (with a standard feed, free of aggregates), a positive control group (food supplemented with chlortetracycline, an antibiotic) and a treatment group that received a diet supplemented with the combination of organic acids, an additive for the animal's intestinal health.
The study's researchers evaluated the average daily weight gain and feed conversion rates over a 28-day period and carried out blood tests and evaluations of different cells from the immune system; faecal samples from the piglets were also analysed on day 24 for the 16S rRNA sequencing and analysis of bacterial diversity.
When reviewing the results, piglets in the group that received food that had been supplemented with a combination of organic acids showed a higher average daily weight gain (164.25 grams for the control group compared to 195.85 grams in the group that received the mixture of organic acids) and lower feed conversion rates (2.09 for the organic acid piglets compared to 2.32 for the control group, this parameter refers to the pig's weight gain in kilograms for each kilogram of food consumed), both of which were statistically significant results.
Comparing immunological responses
The immune response of the piglets, in addition to defending the animal against pathogenic microorganisms, plays a fundamental role in its growth. The researchers at Trouw Nutrition evaluated key immunity parameters, comparing piglets receiving a combination of organic acids with piglets receiving chlortetracycline and a control group.
The piglets that received the feed supplement with organic acid showed increases in their erythrocyte count (red blood cells, responsible for oxygen transport through hemoglobin), leukocyte counts (white blood cells, responsible for defending against pathogens and foreign bodies, in addition to enabling healing), and in the percentage of eosinophils (a type of white blood cells) on day 28, as well as an increase in immunoglobulin G (a type of antibody, defence protein) on day 14. The total antioxidant capacity was higher on days 14 and 28. All of these differences were statistically significant.
Finally, the animals that received the organic acid feed additive showed higher levels of beneficial bacteria, among which were Ruminococcaceae, Lachnospiraceae and Lactobacillus. The levels of the genus Faecalibacterium, one of the anti-inflammatory bacteria that plays an important role in maintaining the stability of the intestinal microflora and the animal's intestinal health, were also higher in the piglets that received the food with a mixture of organic acids in comparison with the piglets that received antibiotics in the feed.
These results suggest that supplementing diets with organic acids can improve growth performance by increasing the proliferation of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract and possibly by modulating the immune response of weaned piglets; although, the mechanisms of action that drive this response require further investigation.
In conclusion, the findings of this research support the need for an integrated approach to farm health management that addresses the prevalence of pathogens throughout the pig production chain, in order to ensure higher-quality products.
All about Spanish Serrano and Iberico Pata Negra ham