Jamón is at the heart of Spanish culture and cuisine. While Spain’s regions vary in their local food traditions, cured Serrano and Ibérico hams are treasured from coast to coast, from the markets of Barcelona to the bars of Galicia and everywhere in between.
There exist two great traditions of artisanal cured hams in Spain, both of which are a source of enjoyment and great pride among Spaniards:
Jamón Serrano is a cured country ham made from conventional pork. From time immemorial in the mountains of Spain, people have packed fresh hams in sea salt and hung them from their rafters to cure. A year to eighteen months later the jamones are ready. With no cooking required, these hams are carved into paper thin slices and served with a glass of Spanish wine, or added to a myriad of recipes like croquetas de jamón or added to sautéed vegetables or stews.
Today, Jamón Serrano comprises about 90% of Spain's annual ham production. These hams are produced mostly by recreating the effect of traditional techniques in modern production facilities, from white pigs raised mostly on cereal grains. The hams are made from Duroc, Pietrain, Landrace or other large white pigs, which flourish throughout Europe. When compared to hams processed in other countries, however, Jamón Serrano is firmer with a consistent texture, some marbling, a warm red color and a deep ham flavor.
Jamón Ibérico is the pride of Spain. The lineage of the unique animals that produce these hams stretches back to pre-history when they ran wild in the Iberian Peninsula. Columbus had some of them on the Santa María when he set out to discover the New World. Our family, who founded Jamon.com, has been on a quest for the finest of all hams, Jamón Ibérico, since we started our business in 1996.
Non-acorn fed Ibérico ham is produced from Cerdo Ibérico, a pig native to Southwestern Spain and Southeastern Portugal. These pigs are much fatter and have more marbled meat than normal pigs. As opposed to their luckier Bellota destined brethren, they are mostly fed cereal feeds, and may be allowed limited free range time where herbs supplement their diet.
The acorn-fed version is called Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (bellota literally means acorn). These fortunate Ibérico pigs are free to roam the meadows of the 'dehesa', the ancient rangeland of western Spain. During the autumn they feast on acorns (bellotas) from the holm oak and cork trees, sometimes gaining as much as a kilo of weight a day. Much of the resultant fat is mono-unsaturated. In fact, they are sometimes called “walking olive trees” because their fat is nearly as healthy as extra virgin olive oil.
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota is considered the world's finest ham. Some whole hams can sell for upwards of $2,000 per piece.
Ibérico de Bellota hams are cured 24 to 48 months, losing nearly half of their weight as the fat melts away. When the hams are finished curing, they have an incredibly complex taste, distinct marbling, a deep red color and an intense ham flavor bathed in mono-unsaturated fat.