Spanish ham is an extraordinary all-natural agricultural product. It’s versatile too! Let’s just say any meal, get-together, or formal dinner party can be significantly enhanced with the fantastic ham.
And although enjoying Spanish ham is easy, making it is the opposite — we’re talking some of the finest Spanish hams take four years to produce!
To make Spanish ham producers need experience, lots of knowledge and, above all, patience; you can’t rush these things. To get it right, ham producers have to follow an elaborate process, always under the supervision of European law. Here’s all about it.
1. Breeding the Pigs
All good Iberico ham starts with the finest meat. So, ham production really begins in the fields. The type of pig may vary. Standard pigs such as Duroc or Large White breeds are common in Serrano ham, Spain’s entry-level ham.
To produce more sophisticated ham, producers use the prestigious and rare Iberico pig. This smaller but chubbier variety makes the best ham, but what the pigs eat is also essential.
Although most pigs feed on a balanced diet of grains and legumes, the most exclusive ham comes from pigs that feed on acorns. When the pigs reach the right weight, often after 36 months, they’re ready to be processed.
2. The Salting Process
Although no part of the pig is wasted, to make ham producers separate the front and hind legs from the carcass. The pieces are trimmed and refrigerated before they’re ready for the critical salting process.
In this step, the pieces of meat are covered with salt. As a general rule, they’ll spend an entire day under the salt for every kilo of meat. The salt must penetrate the flesh, and this is important — this step determines a big part of the ham’s flavor profile.
After the salting process is finished, the legs are washed, drained and left to set for around two days.
3. The Drying and Aging Process
The legs are now ready to gain complexity as they lose moisture and gain maturity. First, they are hung in a special room with low temperatures between 3°C and 6°C and high humidity levels of up to 90%. The legs might spend between 35 and 45 days in these chambers.
It’s time to classify the legs by weight and quality, and they’re sent to dry in unique rooms with natural ventilation. The ham is effectively air-dried to maturity, softening and gaining flavor in the process.
At this point, the legs have lost up to 40% of their original weight, and they can spend between 2 and 4 years in the drying rooms.
The Ham Is Ready to Be Enjoyed!
The ham is finally ready to be packed and shipped around the world. Its characteristic sweet flavor and buttery texture have gained fans worldwide! It comes without saying strict quality controls, and testing occurs at every step of the process, ending with a final tasting by an expert ham taster.
Not all Spanish ham is created equal; each denomination of origin has its own rules. Still, what all Spanish ham has in common is that it’s delightful — there’s just nothing like it! After all, these are four years well spent, don’t you agree?