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.
All about Spanish Serrano and Iberico Pata Negra ham