Ham or Jamón one of the most valued products of Spanish Gastronomy
One of the best well known and appreciated products of Spanish Gastronomy is Ham or Jamón.
There are many types of ham and also a range of qualities, therefore it is not always easy to know which one to get. A couple of days ago, in the Fresh Food Market tour as part of our Tapas Cooking class, a nice couple from San Diego, California asked me about the differences of different types of ham. This led me to write this short summary.
What is ham or Jamón
Ham is the cured back leg of the pig, if the front leg is used it is usually called “paletilla”. In Spain the most generic name is Serrano Ham or Jamón Serrano. This name comes from the tradition of curing the ham in high places of the mountain range (La sierra).
There are four factors which determine the quality of ham:
- The race of the pig: The pig used to make ham could be “white race” or “iberian”. The Iberian race can only be found in Spain and Portugal. Ham made with Iberian pigs is known as Ibérico Ham (Jamón Ibérico). The Iberian pig is a pig with dark skin and black hoof (known in Spain as Pata Negra which gives a first impression of the quality of the ham)
- The food pigs eat: when Iberian pigs are fed mainly with acorn, ham is known as “Jamón de Bellota” (acorn ham). When the acorn is germinating the pork feeds with grassland and cultivation. On the other hand, when natural feed is added, the ham is known as Jamón Ibérico de recebo.
- The freedom of movement: Pigs must have enough space to move and to do physical exercise.
- The curation process: Ham must be cured in a dried place, this could be in the mountains or in a chamber. The length of the curation process depends on different factors, but one of them is how pork are fed. Ham made with pork fed with acorn require longer time to cure.
Certification of quality
To these four features we can add one more that is the region or place of origin, where the pig has been raised. Some regions of Spain have a stamp of Denomination of Origin (D.O.), which certifies the quality of the pork. In order to get this quality stamp some requirements must be met: pigs must be of special race and their upbringing must be done according to established norms.
Probably the best well known ham is D.O Jabugo (Huelva). In this case: both pig parents must be of the Iberian race; pigs grow in the pasture amid cork and oak cork tres, and they are fed exclusively with acorns, roots and herbs, which give ham a special flavor.