Spanish ham is an authentic delicacy and a critical component of the healthy and delicious Mediterranean diet. There’s no doubt there’s great pleasure in sharing authentic Spanish ham with friends and family. Still, not all ham is created equal.
The Spanish government closely observes Spanish ham, and strict rules are in place to guarantee the highest quality. This means ham is classified by the type of pig from which the ham comes and the pigs’ diet. And although all Spanish ham is heavenly, the highest quality tier is just glorious!
From Iberian pigs, producers make Jamon, English for ham, and paleta, English for the front leg. But they also make 'lomo' (back ham). These cured meats, along with some premium sausages like the salchichón and morcilla are the base of the country’s cuisine.
These are essential for the country's tapas Spain is so famous for. Look for any tapas recipe, and you'll find cured meat feature in most. Spanish tapas or 'bocadillos' or 'picos,' along with Spanish cheese, are fantastic for wine pairing experiences, and they're also lovely with spirits. Just try Jamon de bellota Iberico with a glass of Rittenhouse rye or Pappy Van Winkle and see for yourself. Try all the types of ham and find your favorite!
Serrano ham or jamon serrano is the most straightforward and inexpensive type of ham. The term ‘serrano’ comes from the practice of dry-curing the ham in the open air up in the mountains or ‘sierras.’
This type of ham comes from so-called white pigs, foreign breeds, including the Duroc, Pietrain, Landrace and Large White. Serrano ham is attractively savory, fatty and smooth, and it’s aged for a minimum of 10 months. You’ll find this ham in different quality levels as well:
Serrano Bodega: Cured for 10 to 12 months.
Serrano Reserva: Cured for 12 to 15 months.
Serrano Gran Reserva: Cured for at least 15 months.
Iberian Bait Ham
Iberian ham is the finest Spanish ham and comes from the local Iberian pig. The small breed produces extraordinary levels of fat, which translates into flavorful ham. And although all Iberian ham is already highly prized, the pigs’ diet determines the ham’s quality.
Iberian bait ham comes from farm-raised pigs that are fed with an all-natural mix of grains and grasses. Cereals play a critical role in developing high quality ham. It comes without saying that many Iberico hams can be made with mixed breeds where the Iberico pig must be well represented. It can also come from 100% Iberico pigs, and that’s clearly stated on the label.
Iberian Field Bait Ham
Field bait ham is also made with Iberian pigs, whether they’re at least 50% Iberico pigs or purebred Iberico. These pigs may roam freely and feed on fresh pasture, so they have strong muscles. Producers also complement the pigs’ diet with grains, so the ham is flavorful and unctuous. Besides, during acorn season, these pigs might enjoy such a tempting treat. This is already a beautiful Spanish ham, and for the price, it’s quite a bargain.
Iberian Acorn Ham
Iberico pigs that feed out in the open in Spain’s flatlands during the acorn season or ‘montanera’ produce the most flavorful and coveted dry-cured ham. The secret is in the pig’s diet, which is based mostly on acorns and fresh herbs — they don’t receive grain supplements. When the pigs are purebred, we’re talking about the highest quality and the ham is labeled as 100% Jamon Iberico de Bellota.
Several appellations of protected origins produce exclusive ham with a sense of place. D.O.P. Guijuelo, D.O.P. Jabugo, D.O.P. Dehesa de Extremadura and D.O.P. Los Pedroches produce some of the most extraordinary ham in Spain.
The Best Part? You Don’t Have to Choose!
The best part about Spanish cured ham is that you don’t need to choose. Serrano ham is lovely on any given weeknight, and the exclusive Iberico ham is suitable for any memorable occasion.
Try the different types of Spanish ham and choose your favorites. Make ham part of your life and enjoy one of the tastiest European agricultural products. Spanish ham is noble and adding it to your diet is effortless!