Think tapas, croquettes or even bocadillos; all these dishes have one common ingredient. Yes, you guessed it. Spanish ham. For decades, jamon has been the key ingredient in many of Spain’s most famous and delicious dishes. In fact, Spain produces millions of pounds of ham each year.
From this large yearly production, comes two types of Spanish Ham: Jamon Iberico and Jamon Serrano. Restaurant menus and supermarket aisles usually advertise these two kinds of Spanish ham with a massive variation in price. Do you know the difference between Jamón Ibérico and Jamon Serrano?
Jamón Ibérico is made from Iberian pigs that are often described as dark-haired and black-footed. These pigs freely roam forest-filled pastures on farms or country-sides and have a diet of acorns. Therefore, making the feeding and rearing process more natural. The sweet, nutty flavor of the acorns gives the meat a unique taste. Ibérico is known for its appetizing marbled meat, fragrance and low salt content. The breed of the pig, expense of the feed and herding and the long delicate curing process makes Jamón Ibérico the best and most expensive Spanish ham in the food industry.
There are three types of Ibérico:
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (acorn): The finest of all hams made from free range pigs that roam oak forests and feed entirely on acorns. The meat is then cured for at least three to five years.
Jamón de Recebo: These pigs are held in pastures or pen and fed a mixed diet of acorns and grain. The meat is then cured for at least two years.
Jamón Ibérico de Cebo: The pigs are fed on grains and cereals and eat little to no acorns. The meat cured for up to two years.
Jamón Serrano is bred with several different breeds of white pigs, such as Duroc, Landrace, or Large White; therefore, making it a hybrid pig. These pigs do not roam freely but are raised on farms. Jamón Serrano has broad strips of pink meat alongside strips of pure white fat but no marbling. It has a robust mixture of sweet, rich and salty flavor and it is less expensive than Iberico.
The Curing Process
The curing process of Iberian and Serrano is similar. The legs are coated and left salted for up to two weeks to draw out excess water and then rinsed. After this stage, according to its type, the hams go through a period of hanging in different temperatures to be dried and matured. However, while the guidelines are similar, the factor of time is different between the two. For example, Ibérico takes 14 to 36 months while Jamón Serrano takes 7 to 16 months.
What to eat when
Jamón Ibérico is usually carved in small pieces, served solo and not typically eaten on sandwiches or with cheese. It’s a common appetizer or tapa and the first course at banquets and weddings. The best way to experience and taste the meat is to eat it without an accompaniment.
Jamón Serrano, on the other hand, is often used to make sandwiches and is a popular ingredient in Spanish recipes such as croquetas, salads, garnishing soups and breakfast eggs.
Whatever the occasion, there is a beautiful jamon to enjoy with it!