Spanish Ham

Spanish Hams

Spanish HamJamón serrano (literally mountain ham) is a type of jamón (dry-cured Spanish ham), which is generally served raw in thin slices, or ocassionaly, diced. The French jambon bayonne and Italian prosciutto crudo are similar. A foreleg prepared in the same manner is called paleta.

Fresh hams are trimmed and cleaned, then stacked and covered with salt for about two weeks in order to draw off excess moisture and preserve the meat from spoiling. The salt is then washed off and the hams are hung to dry for about six months. Finally, the hams are hung in a cool, dry place for six to eighteen months, depending on the climate, as well as the size and type of ham being cured. The drying sheds (secaderos) are usually built at higher elevations, which is why the ham is called mountain ham.

The majority of Serrano hams are made from the "Landrace" breed of white pig and are not to be confused with the much more expensive and entirely different Jamón ibérico. These hams were known as a delicacy even in the days of the Roman Empire. Though not expensive in Spain and the European Union, duties imposed on imported meats and exchange rates makes these hams more costly outside the Union. Where available, the meat can usually be purchased sliced, in chunks, or as a complete, bone-in ham.

Other hams
There are many producers of Spanish hams but the level of quality can be judged by the following:

  • The type of pig
  • The way the pig has been fed
  • The part of the pig used to make the ham
  • The way the ham is cured

The four major quality categories of cured ham are as follows, from highest to lowest quality:

A regional variation of Jamón Serrano

Spanish Cured Ham

Spanish Cured Ham

Iberian Ham or Jamón Ibérico
Jamón ibérico
, Iberico ham, also called pata negra, is a type of spanish cured ham produced mostly in Spain and in some Portuguese regions, where it's called presunto ibérico. It is at least 75% black Iberian pig, also called the cerdo negro (black pig). According to Spain's Denominación de Origen rules on food products jamón ibérico may be made from cross-bred pigs as long as they are at least 75% ibérico.

The black Iberian pig lives primarily in the south and southwest parts of Spain, including the provinces of Salamanca, Ciudad Real, Cáceres, Badajoz, Seville, Córdoba and Huelva. It also lives in the southeast parts of Portugal (Barrancos), where it is referred to as porco de raça alentejana.

Immediately after weaning, the piglets are fattened on barley and maize for several weeks. The pigs are then allowed to roam in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns, and roots, until the slaughtering time approaches. At that point the diet may be strictly limited to acorns for the best quality jamón ibérico, or may be a mix of acorns and commercial feed for lesser qualities.

The hams from the slaughtered pigs are salted and left to begin drying for two weeks, after which they are rinsed and left to dry for another four to six weeks. The curing process then takes at least twelve months, although some producers cure their jamones ibéricos for up to 36 months.

In particular, the ibérico hams from the towns of Guijuelo in the Salamanca province and Jabugo in the Huelva province are known for their consistently high quality. Almost the entire town of Jabugo is devoted to the production of jamón ibérico. The town's main square is called La plaza del Jamón.

Spanish Ham

Iberian HamTypes and characteristics
The hams are labeled according to the pigs' diet, with an acorn diet being most desirable:

  • The finest jamón ibérico is called jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn). This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests (called la dehesa) along the border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during this last period. It is also known as Jamón Iberico de Montanera. The exercise and the diet has a significant impact on the flavor of the meat; the ham is cured for 36 months.
  • The next grade of jamón ibérico is called jamón ibérico de recebo. This ham is from pigs that are pastured and fed a combination of acorns and grain.
  • The third type of jamón ibérico is called jamón ibérico de cebo, or simply, jamón ibérico. This ham is from pigs that are fed only grain. The ham is cured for 24 months.

Additionally, the word "puro" (pure, referring to the breed) can be added to the previous qualities when both the father and mother of the slaughtered animal are of pure breed and duly registered on the pedigree books held by official breeders.

The term pata negra is also used to refer to jamon iberico in general and may refer to any one of the above three types.

The term "pata negra" refers to the color of the pig's nails which are white in the traditional pork (Sus domesticus) but black for the Black Iberian Pig. While as a general rule a black nail should indicate an Iberico ham, there are cases of counterfeits with nails being manually painted.

Bellota jamones are prized both for their smooth texture and rich savory taste. A good ibérico ham has regular flecks of intramuscular fat. Because of the pig's diet of acorns, much of the jamón's fat is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol.

The fat content is relatively high compared to jamón serrano, thus giving a rich taste.

Jamón ibérico, which only accounts for about 8% of Spain's cured-ham production, is very expensive and not widely available abroad.

Portugal produces a related ham from black iberian pigs called presunto de porco preto.

After the 2009 Christmas season, Spain was left with an "unwanted ham mountain" as supply outweighed demand. An estimated four million hams remained unsold, and were thus given away to Spaniards as promotional items, or sold at discounted prices. This can be compared to the foie gras crisis in France; 14 tons of it were given away to charity after it was left unsold following the holiday season.

Jamon de Pata Negra

Availability in the United States
Until recently, jamón ibérico was not available in the United States (a fact referenced in the movie Perdita Durango, where the ham of Jabugo is praised as "illegal, but delicious").

Prior to 2005, only pigs raised and slaughtered outside of Spain were allowed to be processed in Spain for export to the United States. In 2005 the first slaughterhouse in Spain, Embutidos y Jamones Fermín, S.L., was approved by the United States Department of Agriculture to produce ibérico ham products for export to the United States.

The first "jamones ibéricos" were released for sale in the United States in December 2007, with the bellota hams due to follow in July 2008. The basic jamón ibérico is priced upwards of $52 a pound, and the bellota is priced upwards of $96 a pound, making these hams some of the most expensive in the world.

Jamón de Pata Negra

Iberian Pigs
Iberian PigsThe Black Iberian Pig, also known in Portugal as Alentejano Pig, is a breed, Mediterraneus, of the domestic pig (Sus scrofa domesticus) that is indigenous to the Mediterranean area. The Iberian pig, whose unique origin can be traced back to ancient times, is found in herds clustered in the central and southern territory of the Iberian Peninsula, in Portugal and Spain.

The most commonly accepted theory is that the first pigs were brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Phoenicians from the Eastern Mediterranean coast (current day Lebanon) where they interbred with wild boars. This cross gave rise to the first Iberian breeds whose origins, in this case, can be traced back to about the year 1000 B.C. The production of Iberian pig is deeply bound to the Mediterranean ecosystem. It is a rare example in the world swine production where the pig contributes so decisively to the preservation of the ecosystem. The Iberian breed is currently one of the few examples of a domesticated breed which has adapted to a pastoral setting where the land is particularly rich in natural resources, in this case the holm oak, gall oak and cork oak.

The numbers of the Iberian breed have been drastically reduced since 1960 due to several factors - the outbreak of African swine fever, the lowered value of animal fats, and the massive introduction of more efficient foreign breeds. In the last few years, however, this population bottleneck has been reversed and the production of pigs of the Iberian type has increased to satisfy the new demand for top quality meat and cured products. At the same time, the old breed structure, with differentiated varieties locally distributed, has been replaced by a pyramidal structure based on crossbreeding with Duroc. Consequently, some ancestral varieties have disappeared, and others are endangered or blended, necessitating a new design for programmes of conservation of these genetic resources.

This legendary and select race has many qualities, including a great capacity to accumulate fat under its skin and between the muscular fibres. This fat is what produces the typical white streaks that make its hams so special. The production of meat products from Iberian pigs has very little in common with that of meat products obtained from selected pigs raised under intensive conditions, and it constitutes an example of the preparation of high quality meat products, comparable to the most exquisite food products in the world.

The Iberian pig is dark in colour, ranging from black to grey, with little or no hair and a lean body, thus giving rise to the familiar name "pata negra", or "black hoof". Because the animals live freely, they are constantly moving around and therefore burn more calories than other species of pig. This in turn produces the fine bones typical of this kind of Jamón ibérico. At least a hectare of healthy dehesa is needed to raise a single pig, and since the trees may be several hundred years old, the prospects for reforesting lost oak forest (dehesa) are slim at best. True dehesa is a richly diverse habitat with four different types of oak that are crucial in the production of prime-quality ham. The bulk of the acorn harvest comes from the holm oak (from November to February), but the season would be too short without the earlier harvests of Spanish oak and gall oak and the late cork oak season, which, between them, stretch the acorn-chomping period from September almost to April.

Jamones Ibericos

How to slice and store your Jamón
Jamón ham is the culinary treasure of Spain and Spaniards enjoy more ham per person than anywhere else in the world. In Spain it is common to see a whole ham resting on a stand in the family kitchen, ready for anyone to cut a thin slice for a snack or a treat. A whole jamon can easily be stored in your kitchen and used daily as needed for as tapas or in recipes.

Storing Your Ham
Store your whole, bone-in jamón in a cool, dry and ventilated place, either resting in a holder (jamonero) or hung by the rope.

To preserve the freshness, moisture and flavor of your ham as it is consumed, always cover the sliced area with plastic wrap or a bit of the removed fat layer after slicing. If the meat has been left exposed to the air for some time, discard the first slice of the exposed area, as it will be dry and tough.

On the other hand, your boneless jamón needs to be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in butcher paper. If it arrives vacuum packed, be sure to remove the original plastic casing. Boneless hams can be divided into pieces, or can be sliced on an electrical slicer. Serve the jamón at room temperature.

Jamones Ibéricos

Slicing Your Ham
Remove the layer of fat from the top and the sides until the meat is exposed. Trim the fat as you slice. Cut small, very thin slices, including some of the marbled fat if your ham is an Ibérico.

Slice downwards with your free hand behind the knife. If you plan to have the entire ham in a day or two, you can remove the skin and fat completely. If not, it is better only to to remove the skin and outer fat layer from the area to be sliced that day.

To enjoy the flavor and texture of a fine jamón, slice the ham with a long sharp knife in the following order: first the rump half, then the rump end, and lastly the shank.

The meat nearest the bone is difficult to slice well, and can be cut into small chunks for use in soups and stews. The ham bone itself is also excellent for flavoring broths, soups, and stews, and may be cut and frozen for later use.

Ham should be consumed at room temperature, when it will have a lustrous appearance. When too cold, the fat will appear opaque.

Any ham that is cut should be consumed immediately, or covered in plastic wrap, to avoid prolonged exposure of the ham to air. In addition, each time you slice the ham, you should protect the cut area with butcher paper, a cloth m,oistened with olive oil, or with a bit of the trimmed skin and fat layer, so that the cut area remains fresh. To further protect the ham, you may cover it with a clean dish towel.

Jamón Ibérico

Your Jamón’s Appearance
You may notice natural molds and bits of salt on the surface of the ham – these occur naturally in the curing and maturation process. In fact mold is an indication of a properly aged ham. It is best to remove it from around the area to be cut to avoid their rancid flavor.

Mold: A thin layer of mold may appear on whole hams. This penicillin-like mold is completely harmless. It can be removed with a clean, damp cloth, with a cloth and olive oil, or a vegetable brush.

Small white spots (thyroxine): These are small "chalky" granules that form between the muscle fibers during the curing process. They vary in shape, size and location. They are amino acids found in aged meat and cheese products and are perfectly safe to eat.

Iridescent sheen: This effect can be seen on the cut surface of the ham and in certain parts of the meat. The coloring sometimes has a metallic appearance. It is insignificant as far as the quality of the ham is concerned.

Salt: Sometimes salt may form on the surface of the ham in dry conditions. This inorganic salt does not affect the flavor of jamón and can be brushed or wiped away.

White film: This may be seen on the cut surface of whole or boneless hams. The film is mostly thyroxine (same as the white spots). Simply discard the discolored slice.
Fat: Whole hams tend to be rather fatty, which protects the meat and helps it keep longer. Remember the old axiom: 'Fat is Flavor."

Tapas is the name of a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, in Spanish cuisine. They may be cold (such as mixed olives, Iberian Ham and manchego cheese) or warm (such as chopitos, which are battered, fried baby squid). In select bars in Spain, as well as some parts of North America and the United Kingdom, tapas has evolved into an entire, and sometimes sophisticated, cuisine. In Spain, patrons of tapas can order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal.In some Central American countries such snacks are known as boca(s).

The serving of tapas is designed to encourage conversation because people are not so focused upon eating an entire meal that is set before them. Also, in some countries it is customary for diners to stand and move about while eating tapas.

The word "tapas" is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, "to cover".

According to legend, the tapas tradition began when king Alfonso X of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals. After regaining his health, the king ordered that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine to customers unless it was accompanied by a small snack or "tapa."

According to The Joy of Cooking, the original tapas were the slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales. The tapas eventually became as important as the sherry.

Tapas has evolved through Spanish history by incorporating ingredients and influences from many different cultures and countries. Most of the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by the Romans, who introduced the olive and irrigation methods. The invasion of the North African Moors in the 8th century brought almonds, citrus fruits and fragrant spices. The influence of their 700-year presence remains today, especially in Andalusia. The discovery of the New World brought the introduction of tomatoes, sweet and chili peppers, maize (corn), beans and potatoes. These were readily accepted and easily grown in Spain's microclimates.

means "food" or "meal" in Spanish. There are several explanations for why it has come to denote a type of food:

  • A commonly cited explanation is that an item, be it bread or a flat card, etc., would often be placed on top of a drink to protect it from fruit flies; at some point it became a habit to top this "cover" with a snack.
  • It is also commonly said that since one would be standing while eating a tapa in traditional Spanish bars, they would need to place their plates on top of their drinks in order to eat, making it a top.
  • Some believe that the name originated sometime around the 16th century when tavern owners from Castilla-La Mancha found out that the strong taste and smell of mature cheese could help disguise that of bad wine, thus "covering" it, and started offering free cheese when serving cheap wine.
  • Another popular explanation says that the king Alfonso XII stopped by a famous venta (inn) in Cádiz (Andalusian city) where he ordered a cup of sherry. The waiter covered the glass with a slice of cured ham before offering it to the king, to protect the wine from the beach sand, as Cádiz is a windy place. The king, after drinking the wine and eating the tapa, ordered another sherry "with the cover."

In Spain, dinner is usually served between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. (sometimes as late as 12 midnight), leaving significant time between work and dinner. Therefore, Spaniards often go "bar hopping" (Spanish: Ir de tapas) and eat tapas in the time between finishing work and having dinner. Since lunch is usually served between 1 and 3 p.m., another common time for tapas is weekend days around noon as a means of socializing before lunch proper at home.

It is very common for a bar or a small local restaurant to have 8 to 12 different kinds of tapas in warming trays with glass partitions covering the food. They are often very strongly flavored with garlic, chilies or paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, saffron and sometimes in plentiful amounts of olive oil. Often one or more of the choices is seafood (mariscos), often including anchovies, sardines or mackerel in olive oil, squid or others in a tomato based sauce, sometimes with the addition of red or green peppers or other seasoning. It is rare to see a tapas selection not include one or more types of olives, such as manzanilla or arbequina olives. One or more types of bread are usually available to eat with any of the sauce-based tapas.

In Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Asturias, Extremadura, and in parts of Andalucia, when you go to a bar and order a drink, you will often get a tapa for free. As a drink, it is usual to ask for a caña (small beer), a chato (glass of wine) or a mosto (grape juice). In several cities, there are entire zones dedicated to tapas bars; each one serving their own unique dish. In León you can find the Barrio Húmedo, in Logroño Calle Laurel and in Burgos Calle de la Sombrerería and Calle de San Lorenzo.

Sometimes, especially in Northern Spain, they're also called pinchos (spelled pintxos in Basque) in Navarre, the Basque Country, Cantabria and in some provinces like Salamanca; this is because many of them have a pincho or toothpick through them. The toothpick is used to keep whatever the snack is made of from falling off the slice of bread it is attached to and to keep track of the number of tapas the customer has eaten. Differently priced tapas have different shapes or have toothpicks of different sizes. The price of a single tapa ranges from 1.00 to 2 euros. Another name for them is banderillas (diminutive of bandera "flag"), in part because some of them resemble the colorful spears used in bullfighting.

Tapas can be "upgraded" to bigger portions, equivalent to half a dish (media ración) or a whole one (ración). This is generally more economical when a tapa is being ordered by more than one person. The portions are usually shared by diners, and a meal made up of raciones resembles a Chinese dim sum, Korean banchan or Middle Eastern mezze.

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