May 11, 2021

What is Spanish Jamon and what is the difference between Jamon Iberico and Serrano

If you ask any person what he associates Spain with, then most will say that it is sun, palms, flamenco and … jamon! Jamon is a large piece of cured and salted meat, in the preparation of which salt is added, and the process itself is carried out only subject to strict temperature limits and humidity levels. But in fact, Jamon is not just a dish – it is a real symbol of Spain! There is not a single table in Spain that does not have ham on a holiday or on the most ordinary day. Also, there is not a single tourist who would not recognize or try about this world-famous dish (or would not take a piece with him as a souvenir).

The history

The history of jamon began more than 2,000 years ago, when a petrified jamon was found in an archaeological excavation. Jamon began to gain popularity during the Roman Empire, when there was a great need for the long-term preservation of products such as meat. This was an acute problem for traders, armies, nomadic tribes, and for poor farmers who needed to save food for a long time.

jamon on the table

In this regard, people began to resort to this technique – thickly roll the meat in salt and thus dry it. The jerky did not spoil and could be used for food all year round.

By salting and smoking meat, the Iberians noticed that pork was better suited for these purposes than meat from other animals. It is fatter, stored longer and retained its taste. All this made it possible to produce jamon in huge quantities and trade it at a very good price, along with olive oil and wine. In addition, pork was a symbol of wealth.

Jamon was served to Roman emperors, legionnaires were fed with it. During the reign of Emperor Augusto, coins were minted in the form of a ham, as well as consular medals. In the Middle Ages, with the arrival of the Arabs to the Iberian Peninsula, pork was banned, but the peasants continued to eat it. The authorities were condescending to this, citing it to maintain the health of the population. After the Muslims were driven out, the jamon returned to its glory and honor.

In addition, there is also an interesting opinion that it was thanks to jamon that Christopher Columbus was able to provide his expedition with food and discover America.

This salty meat very quickly won the sympathy of gourmets, now becoming a real symbol of Spain. It is noteworthy that despite the wide distribution and popularity of the dish, the original recipe for ham has survived to this day almost unchanged.


What is the technique for making jamon?

There are 4 steps:

  1. Salting and rinsing. Immediately after slaughter, the ham is covered with sea salt and left for 7-10 days. Then stored in a cool room at a temperature of 1-5 C and a humidity of 80-90%. After that, the jamon is washed with cool water.
  2. Leveling the salting level: jamon is stored at a temperature of 3-6 C for 30-60 days. During this time, the salt spreads throughout the meat, favoring hydration and preservation, thus significantly increasing the consistency of the meat.
  3. Drying and ripening. Jamon is placed in a natural drier, where the temperature is automatically regulated between 15-30 C. It takes 6-30 months. At this time, the taste and smell of the product is formed, due to changes in the proteins and fats of the meat. 
  4. Quality test. The ham is pierced with a bone needle. The readiness is determined by the smell that appears.

Types of jamon

If you are looking to buy Spanish ham, then you need to know that there are several different types of this Spanish delicacy.

There are two types of pork jerky: jamon and pallet. What’s the difference? Jamon is the back leg of the pork, and the pallet is the front leg. The pallet size is smaller, the meat is tougher, and the flavor is sharper. Jamon has a complex, deep, harmonious aroma. Each of them has its own merits, and it is impossible to say which part is better, although the price differs markedly in favor of the ham. The back of the leg is also more popular.

As for the variety of jamon, it is generally accepted that there are two main varieties of jamon – Serrano and Iberico, which differ primarily in the breed of pigs and their nutrition throughout life. 


Jamon Serrano

Jamon Serrano is made from breeds of white pigs that live in farm buildings and eat compound feed all their lives. Depending on the exposure time, there are markings as:

– curado – 7 months 

bodega – 9 months

reserva – 12 months

gran reserva – 15 months. 

The longer the exposure, the better the quality is considered, as well as the higher the price. It is also worth noting that in Spanish “serrano” is translated as “mountain”. In this case, the name of the ham indicates that the ham is dried in mountain conditions, that is, climatically and seasonally different from the plain conditions.


Jamon Iberico

Jamon Iberico  is made from a unique and rare breed of black Iberian pigs, raised only in Spain. Iberico is also often called Pata Negra – “black leg”. Their meat is strikingly different from the usual pork. It has a deep dark red color and has marble veins. Produced from a breed of pigs raised only in Spain, Black Pata Negra is the only wild pig breed that lives in the wild. These animals are feed one of two special diets.

One of them is “beyota” and is based on acorns, which are fed to the pig in its pure form. The second diet – “Resebo” is a mixture of acorns and feed. These two feeding methods are the main ones in the production of Spanish ham, and the rules for keeping pigs are quite strict. The piggy eats on an hourly basis and is also washes every two days. The pig of the Iberian breed has black hooves and dark skin, which explains the name of this variety.

Iberico is considered a real delicacy and has an incomparable taste. Just like Serrano, Jamon Iberico has 4 labels, depending on the pig’s breed:

– White – Jamon Iberico de cebo 50%, pig raised in a pen

– Green – Jamon Iberico de cebo de campo 50%, wild pig

– Red – Jamon Iberico de bellota 75%

– Black – Jamon 100% Iberico de bellota 100%.

sliced spanish ham

How do they eat jamon in Spain?

Usually, Spaniards cut it into very thin slices and serve on a plate with olive oil, olives, or cheese.

Hand slicing ham is a real art and requires skill. For this, they use a special wooden structure. It cuts with special long and very sharp knives. In Spain there are even specialists, “cortadores”, who professionally cut jamon. The thickness of the cut piece is very important, the thinner the better.

Spanish ham is not only a tapa. People also use in a wide variety of recipes, as it always adds sophistication and richness to any dish. In Spain thay serve it as an independent dish or added to various others recepies, giving them an exquisite taste and smell. For example, they often serve it with fruits, purees, or vegetables. Also, toast with jamon is one of the most popular breakfast in Spain.

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