Jamón Serrano, Dry-cured Spanish Ham

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 Jamón serrano is ‘dry-cured’ Spanish ham. Unlike York ham, which producers bake or boil in salted fluid. The organic serrano ham is the cheaper alternative for the other and most expensive Spanish ham, Jamón Ibérico.

The two main types of cured ham in Spain are Jamón Serrano (Serrano ham or mountain ham) and Jamón Ibérico (Iberico ham). Serrano ham (ham from the sierra, or mountain range) comes from white and/or non-Ibérico breeds of pig. The Jamón Ibérico, especially the ‘de Bellota’ variant has a smooth texture and rich, savory taste. In addition, the fat content is relatively higher than that in jamón serrano. 

Sliced Spanish serrano ham

Most produces and consumed jamón in Spain is Serrano ham. The majority of a landrace breed of white pigs or a commercial breed of Duroc pigs produce jamones serranos . Compound-fed white pigs produce similar ham called jamón reserva,  jamón curado, and jamón extra, etc.

Serrano is the more usual ham that farmers produce everywhere in Spain, and which is widely sold in grocery stores all over Europe and the rest of the world.

Serrano ham comes from the Yorkshire variety of pigs. This is the most common breed in industrial production. High-quality Serrano ham, often from Teruel or Trevelez, can also be very expensive. A leg of organic serrano ham costs around $370.

Here is a table with a selection of Serrano ham I selected on Amazon*.

History of Ham

Jamón – the Spanish word for ham – has been consumed in Spain and Portugal for at least 2,000 years. Martial, the Roman poet, already eating at a dinner it in the 1st Century AD in what is now Spain.

Since then, in many rural areas of the country, the slaughter of a pig (or ‘sacrifice’ as the Spaniards call it) has long been cause for celebration. The hind legs would often be salted and dried for later consumption as jamón.

To this day, jamón is an essential part of the nation’s food culture. From quiet villages to bustling cities, it is spread out on plates for long family meals, picked at by friends in bars and stuffed into late-morning sandwiches. The Spanish consume around 160,000 tonnes of Span-ish ham each year. And exports to other countries are rising.

Certification of Serrano Ham

Jamón serrano has TSG (Traditional Specialities Guaranteed) status. The TSG certification guarantees that a particular food product objectively possesses specific characteristics that differentiate it from all others in its category. It also means that the raw materials, composition, or method of production have been consistent for a minimum of 30 years.

Serrano hams are hams cured using sea salt, the mountain air, and approximately a year’s worth of time. The production of Serrano ham is overseen by the European Union’s T.S.G., Traditional Specialty Guaranteed certification.

This status protects the authenticity of Serrano ham and ensures that it is a historical, authentic and genuine product.

In 1990, the main producers and exporters of Serrano ham joined forces to create the Consorcio del Jamón Serrano Español to guarantee the quality of Serrano hams. Their “S” shape brand on the skin of the ham guarantees that the ham has passed the strict standards of the Consorcio.

It is also worth tasting these very good Serrano hams:

  • Jamón de Trevélez – from white pigs fed on commercial cereals; but still an excellent ham.
  • Jamón de Teruel – the first jamón in Spain to receive DO status; it is a mountain ham that ages for at least 12 months after curing.

Hereunder a few of the Trevélez and Teruel hams you can buy on Amazon*.

Serrano Ham vs Iberian Ham: no competition

Serrano ham may be one of the most popular Spanish hams; oit is fairly cheap, easy to get access to and has a great porky taste. It is however, of the quality is lesser quality than the Jamón Iberico.

The breed is a standard white European Yorkshire pig that eats purely grain. It is then cured for the shortest amount possible which is 3 to 6 months. Th e farmers produce this pig to create maximum yield, at a low cost in order to make a profit. Now, that is perfectly fine. A good Serrano can taste very good. But when it is compared to an Iberico Jamon, there is absolutely no competition. 

Variety

The Serrano ham comes pigs bred only in the mountains. For centuries, as far back as the Roman Empire, these pigs have been raised for their delicate flavor.  The fresh ham is first rolled in sea salt and then hung to cure in a dry, cool shed for 6 to 18 months.

The Jamón de Trevélez must be cured at least 1200 meters above sea level. The ham is the sweetest Serrano ham because it takes less salt to mature. Teruel ham is cured for at least a year at 800 meters above sea level.

The ham-master knows the curing is complete by inserting a splinter of cow bone into the meat and taking a sniff, much as a wine-master sniffs the wine.

Serrano is sometimes called ‘jamón reserva’, ‘jamón curado’, or ‘jamón extra’. This very much depends on its origin and also on its preparation method. The ham is always dark red. It is not the pink which we see in other European and in American hams.

Jamón Serrano Recipes

Jamón Serrano is as one of the most important food items of the Spanish cuisine (along with other dishes such as Gazpacho and Paella). Spanish tapas therefore often are made with this ham.

People prefer to eat the Jamón in slices, either manually carved from a leg on a jamonero stand using a sharp thin slicing knife, or cut from the deboned meat with a rotatory cold-cut slicer.

As a product, Jamón is similar to the Portuguese presunto and also to Italian prosciutto.  The production however is different. The ham has a longer curing phase (up to 18 months), which gives it a dryer texture, a deeper color and stronger flavour than presunto and prosciutto.

Source: Wikipedia

Tapas

Tapas is the plural of tapa (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtapa]) and an appetizer or snack in Spanish cuisine and translates to small portion of any kind of Spanish cuisine. Jamón Ibérico is a favorite ingredient in Spanish tapas.

Jamón Ibérico used in Spanish tapas

Often, tapas are cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such as chopitos, battered and fried baby squid).

In many restaurants and bars in Spain and now also across the globe, tapas have evolved into a more sophisticated ‘cuisine’. People combine tapas to make a full meal. In some Central American countries, people call tapas bocas. In parts of Mexico, botanas.

Source: Wikipedia

Jamón Carving

When possible, opt for hand-sliced over machine-sliced jamón, because master carvers slice in a way that properly distributes fat among the entire piece—something that cannot be replicated by a machine. Also, only buy ham that’s been vacuum sealed.

Jamón carving is an art in its own right, and professional carvers are often employed by high-end restaurants and at special events. The meat must be sliced incredibly thin and be served immediately at room temperature to ensure that the flavour is fresh and the fat is soft enough to melt in the mouth.

The different parts of a good leg have different flavours and textures. The cuts can be appreciated in a tasting session that often looks very much like a ‘degustation’ for wine. Fattier cuts from near the hip have a rich, buttery taste, while drier cuts found closer to the hoof have a sweet, nutty flavour. And just like wine, a good jamón reflects the quality of the environment from where it came.

How we know if it is a good ham? It needs to be soft, and the fat needs to melt with a little bit of temperature.

As with its origin and environment, Iberian ham is carved using a specific technique, which can take a lot of time to learn. Iberian ham is cut with a long, narrow, and very flexible knife. It’s very important to always cut in the direction of the muscle so the flavor of the fat and the meat always stays in the same direction.

The challenges of this profession is to get the maximum number of slices every time you cut a ham. There is also the opportunity to make nice designs with the fat and the slices.

When buying a Serrano ham you absolutely need to have the right knives and a ham stand. I selected some of those utensils on Amazon*:

The Four Different Cuts of Serrano Ham

Then, there are the different cuts, many of which are not known outside of Spain. An Ibérico ham leg has four different parts to it:

  1. the punta,
  2. the babilla or contramaza
  3. the maza. and
  4. the jarrete. 

Each has its own distinctive aroma, flavor and texture. In southern and western Spain, the locals pair it with a different kind of sherry (from Jerez de la Frontera), depending on whether it’s sweeter or drier, fatty or more fibrous.

Iberico Ham

The meat in the top third of the ham is the maza. It is soft and juicy and melts in your hands.

The babilla, or contramaza, is near the bottom of the ham.

The jarrete comes from a small area next to the ankle; it is more fibrous and firm-bodied. The jarrete is the rarest part of all. Only an experienced and skilled carver can effectively extract it from around the bone.

The punta, at the tip of the ham, is very difficult to reach; it is sweeter and more marbled.

Buen provecho!

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