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Spanish Jamón Serrano & Jamón Ibérico

Spanish ham is a delicacy that Spaniards adore. They prefer to eat it daily and sorely miss it when abroad. But where does this preference come from, what types of Spanish ham are there, where is the best place to buy it, and how should it be stored and consumed? In this post, I’ll show you everything you need to know about the Spanish Jamón.

The Spanish Jamón

Just as some can’t live without their peanut butter, chocolate sprinkles, or their fries, Spaniards are particularly fond of their raw Jamón. It’s a very special product that has been made in Spain for centuries.

It was the Phoenicians who brought pigs to Spain around 1100 BC and created the first salt flats and drying places on the southern and eastern coasts of the peninsula, beginning the production of Spanish ham as we know it.

Types of Spanish Ham

There are various types of Spanish ham, depending on the breed and diet of the pig. This results in different flavors and prices.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of ham: Iberico ham and Serrano ham. In stores, you can also choose whether you want ham from the paleta or paletilla (the shoulder) or the pata (the hind leg).

While the tastiest ham is found in the hind leg, a good paletilla suffices for everyday consumption and is much cheaper. The most expensive ham is undoubtedly the “Jamón Ibérico de Bellota 100% Pata Negra.”

Types of Spanish Jamón
Types of Spanish Jamón

Jamón Serrano

Jamón Serrano, or mountain ham, comes from white-coated pigs, often of the Duroc, Landrace, Large White, and Pietrain breeds. Unlike the Iberian pig, these pigs are exclusively fed with livestock feed and raised intensively. This type of ham is most common, partly due to its more favorable price.

The official classification of Serrano ham depends on its aging period:

  • Jamón Serrano de bodega: aged between 10 and 12 months.
  • Jamón Serrano Reserva: aged between 12 and 15 months.
  • Serrano Gran Reserva: aged more than 15 months.

Some Serrano hams have their own recognition and special designation, such as hams from Teruel, Trevélez, and Serón.

To know if you’ve bought good Serrano ham, look for the Protected Traditional Speciality label.

Jamón Iberico

Jamón Ibérico comes exclusively from the Iberian pig breed, known for their black hoof, the pata negra.

Within Iberico ham, there are several categories, based on the purity of the breed and the pigs’ diet. The term “pata negra,” indicating the highest quality in Spanish ham, should only be used for pigs that are 100% Iberian and have a real black hoof. The color-coded labeling system helps consumers make informed choices.

  • Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (black or red label): from Iberian pigs fed with acorns and natural grass in the dehesa landscape until they weigh 50 kg. Bellota hams are known as the highest quality. Depending on the percentage of the Iberian breed of the pig, the label color is black (for 100% Iberian) or red (for 50% – 75% Iberian).
  • Jamón Ibérico de Cebo de Campo (green label): made from Iberian pigs that roam in fields and are fed on grasses and livestock feed. The pigs are between 50% and 75% Iberian.
  • Jamón Ibérico de Cebo (white label): from Iberian pigs fed with feed, grains, and legumes, raised in enclosed spaces. The pigs are between 50% and 75% Iberian.

The production of Iberico ham takes between 24 to 36 months, resulting in a beautifully red ham with various layers of fat and an intense flavor that melts on your tongue.

The best Iberico hams, like those from Jabugo, Guijuelo, Dehesa de Extremadura, and Los Pedroches, are additionally protected by a special designation, the Protected Designation of Origin (D.O.P.).

How Spanish Ham is Made

Spanish ham’s unique flavor and texture owe not only to the pigs and their diet but also to the method of production.

Spanish hams are rubbed in salt and air-dried, preferably at high altitudes in the mountains. The aging process of Spanish ham lasts several months to several years and still follows traditional methods, which explains the high price per kilo of the ham.

Where to Buy Spanish Ham

The best place to buy Spanish ham is in specialty stores focused on Spanish hams and sausages, the charcutería (xarcuteria in Catalan). These are found all over Spain, in both the shopping streets and the markets. Shops like Enrique Tomás and Moniberic in Barcelona offer all kinds of ham. They slice the ham on the spot and can vacuum-pack it for you.

Charcutería in Mercat de Santa Caterina Barcelona
Charcutería in Mercat de Santa Caterina

Nowadays, it’s also possible to order ham – even an entire leg – online, which is particularly convenient if you live abroad. In most supermarkets, you can now find Spanish ham, often of the serrano variety.

Cost of Spanish Ham

On average, for 100 grams of good quality Spanish ham, you pay about €15 – €20, making it not exactly cheap.

100% Iberian breed Ibérico ham legs are sold for around €400 to €600 each, and for the very best, even €800!

For a cheaper option, you can always buy slices of ham from the supermarket, but the taste and quality are usually much lower than the superior classes.

Storing Spanish Ham
Storing Spanish Jamón

Storing Spanish Jamón

If you bought Spanish ham in a package or vacuum-packed, it’s best to store it in the refrigerator. Even when the package is opened, the ham should be rewrapped and returned to the fridge. When consuming a slice of ham from the fridge, it’s recommended to open it first and wait until it reaches room temperature.

If you’ve bought an entire pig’s leg, it should ideally be fixed in a ham holder, the jamonera. To best preserve the leg, place it in a cool, dry spot and wrap it in a cotton tea towel or a special cloth. It’s also possible to use the outer fatty layer of the ham, the tocino, as a protective layer. The most important thing is to prevent the ham from drying out.

How to Cut Spanish Jamón

Cutting the ham is an art in itself, and there are people who have made a profession out of it, the so-called cortador de jamón (master ham slicer). They are hired to cut ham at events like weddings and other occasions.

You cut a ham leg from top to bottom using a special knife and a ham holder, where it is secured. After removing the outer fatty layer, you can start slicing the ham into thin slices. You first make a small incision and let the knife move to slice a piece. The trick is to cut the ham slices neither too thick nor too thin.

Spanish ham in a ham holder
Spanish ham in a ham holder

If you’re not skilled with the ham knife but have a whole leg at your disposal, it’s good to know that you can take the ham leg to a local charcutería in Spain and have them cut it for you. They slice the ham and vacuum-pack it into packages, ideal for longer preservation. Don’t forget to ask for the bones and crusts of the ham, which you can use for other dishes.

How to Eat Spanish Jamón

Eating ham in Spain is the most normal thing in the world. Spaniards eat slices of ham on a daily basis, either on bread, as a snack, tapa, or appetizer. Nothing is better than a good glass of red wine with a plate of Spanish ham!

Spanish ham is consumed at room temperature, and importantly, you eat it all, the white skin and all: that layer of fat is what makes the Spanish ham so delicious!

Of course, there is a difference in which ham you use for filling a sandwich or for a party. The more expensive hams are mainly used for special occasions, like during Christmas dinners with the family.

Spanish ham is also used in many recipes in Spain. Think of the famous melon with ham, the cold tomato soup salmorejo, or this delicious tapas dish huevos estrellados. In Catalonia, it’s often used as filling for a sandwich smeared with tomato and olive oil, the famous pa amb tomàquet.

Spanish ham with bread
Spanish ham with bread

Since nothing of the pig was traditionally thrown away in Spain, the outer layer of fat, the tocino, is used to flavor guisos (stews), and the bone of the ham is used to make the most delicious broths.

Also Nice to Know

  • According to many studies, consuming Spanish ham has numerous health benefits. Particularly, ham from 100% Iberian pigs is full of good oils, rich in calcium and phosphorus, and contains vitamins B1, B2, and iron.
  • Spanish ham is a popular Christmas gift that many Spaniards receive as part of a Christmas package. This way, they can enjoy it during the festive season with the whole family!
  • “Jamón, Jamón” is the title of a famous Spanish film by director Bigas Luna.

Have you ever eaten Spanish ham and what did you think of it? Were you familiar with all these types of ham, and which is your favorite?

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Hello! My name is Marta, and I am a born and raised Barcelonian. I love introducing people to Barcelona, especially the Barcelona known to locals. In Barcelona, I am always looking for fun places and tips that I can then share with you, with the goal of helping you experience Barcelona like a local.

Marta Rubio

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