Types of Spanish Ham (Jamon)
Spanish ham is a true gourmet delight that the Spanish used to keep very much to themselves. Now the rest of the world has discovered the succulence and flavour of the best Jamon Iberico, made from a special breed of black Iberian pig that has roamed free in the woods and pastureland of the dehesa, eating a natural wild foraging diet of acorns, herbs, roots and legumes, which gives the meat its distinctive rich and subtle flavour.
Ham production is strictly regulated in Spain in order to preserve the quality of their fine hams. Hams are identified by a different name according to the breed of pig and the amount of wild feed in their diets and according to whether the ham is a leg or shoulder cut. They are also often identified by their area of production and a DOC label, like a fine wine.
Jamon Iberico Iberico means that the ham comes from the black Iberian pig or an authorised cross breed that is at least 75% Iberian. This is considered the best breed to make ham with, having a deep flavour and good fat to lean balance. It comes in various grades:
Jamon Iberico de Bellota
This is the top grade of Spanish ham and the most sought after. Bellota indicates that the pig has been fed exclusively on a wild diet of acorns and herbs once it is mature, giving the ham a rich flavour and smooth texture. These hams will have been cured for at least 30 months.
Jamon Iberico de Recebo
This label indicates that the pig has been fed a mixed free-range diet including both acorns and compound feed. The minimum curing time is 24 months. These hams have some of the acorn fed flavour of the Bellota, but less intensity, and are a good compromise if the Bellota is beyond your budget.
Jamon Iberico de Cebo
These are Iberian pigs which have been raised in a compound without access to a wild diet. The curing time is also 24 months. The breed makes an excellent ham even without the acorn diet, with plenty of flavour and a good smooth texture.
Jamon Iberico Cebo de Campo
Iberian pigs fed on a compound diet but raised free-range. Again a minimum 24 month curing time.
The term Serrano indicates the cut of the ham rather than the breed of pig, so is used to indicate a wide range of hams, usually from ordinary white pig breeds such as the Duroc or Landrace pigs. The same salting and curing process is used for these hams, but usually for less time than the Jamon Iberico. There are many different types of Serrano ham according to curing time and the region it is produced in, with flavours ranging from mild to full flavoured. Serrano ham is the staple of most Spanish families and restaurants and accounts for 90% of ham production in Spain.
Jamon or Paleta
Jamon indicates a ham from the back leg of the pig, which has more meat on it and is more expensive. The Paleta or Paletilla, the shoulder cut, is smaller with a slightly higher ratio of fat, but has an equally good flavour and is less expensive.
Spanish jamons contain less moisture than their European counterparts. Considered to be the finest in Andalucia, Spain. Still made in the traditional way, these hams are entirely cured by the warm summer winds and cool winter airs of the Sierra Nevada.