Jamón Serrano is produced and served in every Spanish province. Although some regions have a longer tradition of producing Jamón Serrano than others, the production of Serrano ham is not limited to a certain geographic area. The production of jamón has become ingrained in the customs and traditions of all Spanish regions. There may be small production variations or subtle contrasts, depending upon the area and the manufacturer. But it is all Jamón Serrano.
Since antiquity Spaniards have produced dry-cured hams. The first written references date back to the Roman Empire. From the very beginning, production of this type of ham has been uncomplicated - taking what nature provides in order to preserve and enrich pork: nothing more complex than sea salt, the correct environmental conditions and time. Historically speaking, fresh ham was cured in mountainous areas with moderate climates that are warm and dry in the summer and cold in the winter. Mountain, or “sierra” (serrano), air favored gradual aging of the meat. This was aided by a preliminary application of sea salt. Ham processing started during the first weeks of November, at the start of the winter. For centuries families sacrificed and butchered the pigs that they had bred and fattened domestically. This ritual is called the “matanza”; an occasion for a celebration in which all family members participated. Note that the Spanish word for "to slaughter" is sacificar – “to sacrifice” – reflecting quite a different concept of respect for the animal than the English word slaughter suggests. The hams were initially covered in sea salt to begin the curing process. After several days, the hams were washed and then hung in curing sheds with sufficient ventilation. There the hams receive the mountain air, whose qualities vary as the seasons change. After about a year this process yielded dry cured Serrano hams that were sufficiently cured for consumption, without any kind of additive or additional handling.
Today, Serrano ham is produced by artificially replicating the traditional methods with modern technology that systematically ensures high hygiene and quality. The goal is to offer the same ham as always by following traditions that have been handed down through the centuries, but achieving a higher standard of quality, uniformity and safety. For this reason it is no longer common to see Serrano hams cured by mountain air in natural curing sheds. There still remain production plants and curing sheds in areas close to the Spanish mountains, but there are also controlled curing sheds located any almost any part of Spain, because technology allows climate conditions to be reproduced in any location. When one encloses curing sheds or installs semi-natural ventilation systems the result is a condition for more stable and safe production. It is no longer necessary to be at the mercy of unforeseen climate changes or the whims of Mother Nature.
The European Union protects the process of Serrano ham production thanks to the certification T.S.G., Traditional Specialty Guaranteed. This protects the authentic taste of Serrano ham and insures to the consumers that it refers to a historical, authentic and genuine product.
The only way to recognize it is to verify that it bears the label of the Consorcio del Jamón Serrano Español with an individual control number. The “S” in the shape of a ham branded as a seal on the skin of the ham is the guaranty that the Serrano ham has passed the rigorous standards of the Consorcio. In 1990 the Consorcio del Jamón Serrano Español was established to bring together Spain’s principal producers/exporters of Serrano ham. They all have the same objective: to guarantee the quality of Spanish Serrano ham and to offer a high quality product for export. What is it that a ham must have in order to earn the quality seal of the Consorcio del Jamón Serrano Español? Inspectors of the Consorcio ensure that the private standards of the Association are properly applied. These established standards consider various points, thereby characterizing the ham as follows:
The Consorcio authorizes various presentations of the final product which may be whole with the hoof, whole without the hoof, boneless or sliced. If the hams pass all the controls, the seal of the Consorcio is branded on the skin, and a numbered control label is attached. It cannot be mistaken: an intense purple-red color, shiny fat and a unique flavor! The group monitors final minimum weights (6.3 kg. or 6.1 kg.); the absence of inappropriate aromas or flavors; the proper texture; and the appropriate levels of salt and dryness. Throughout the various processing phases of deboning, slicing and packaging, the Consorcio ensures that all established standards of hygiene, temperature and humidity conditions are respected.