Types of Spanish Ham
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.
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:
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.