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Serrano Ham: A Treasure of Spanish Gastronomy


Jamón gastronomia española

Serrano ham is a delicacy obtained by salting and air-drying the hind legs of pigs. If it comes from the front legs, it is called "paleta" or "paletilla." Unlike cooked ham, known as York ham, serrano ham is cured in high and cold areas, which gives it its name.


Curing Process


The curing of ham begins with salting, covering the pieces with salt in chambers at 0-4ºC and 75-95% humidity to inhibit microorganisms. Then, in the post-salting phase, the pieces are hung for at least 40 days to allow for a homogeneous distribution of salt and nitrifying agents, developing their characteristic aroma and flavor.


Next is the drying phase, which occurs in two stages, reducing the water content and allowing the fats to sweat, with controlled temperature and humidity. Finally, during the aging process, the pieces mature in natural cellars, acquiring their distinctive properties of flavor, aroma, color, and texture. The minimum curing period for acorn-fed Iberian hams is 36 months, and for the shoulders, it is between 20 and 22 months, although the optimal cellar time depends on the weight of each piece.


Types and Categories of Ham


The pig can be of either white or Iberian breed. Ham from Iberian pigs, especially if they have eaten acorns during fattening, is called acorn-fed Iberian ham. For a ham to be 100% acorn-fed Iberian, the pig must be raised freely in pastures, feeding on acorns, grasses, and aromatic herbs. These hams have a more worn appearance due to the physical activity of the free-ranging pigs, unlike white pig ham, which looks cleaner.


In restaurants, "serrano ham" usually refers to white pig ham, while cooked ham generally also comes from white pigs.


Cured serrano ham is categorized according to its curing time:

- Bodega: 9 to 12 months

- Reserva: 12 to 14 months

- Gran Reserva: 15 months or more


The best quality hams, known as "pata negra," come from Iberian pigs with both parents being of the breed, which have black hooves. However, other pigs with 75% or 50% Iberian blood do not always have black hooves.


Presentation in Bars and Restaurants


In many bars, restaurants, and cellars, you can see pieces of ham hanging from the ceiling. This allows for proper ventilation of the product and for the humidity to gradually disappear while the ham drips excess fat.


To cut serrano ham, place the ham on a stand with the hoof facing up, clean the rind and yellowish fat only in the area to be cut. With a long, sharp knife called a "jamonero," cut thin slices by slightly tilting the knife, keeping the slices almost transparent with some fat, alternating lean and fatty areas to balance the flavor.


Finally, arrange the slices on a plate, slightly overlapping them for an attractive presentation, and serve at room temperature to better enjoy the flavor and texture, accompanied by "picos" of bread.


Properties of Ham


Serrano ham has many beneficial properties for health. It provides B-group vitamins, especially B6, and minerals like phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Its proteins are of high quality, containing all essential amino acids. Additionally, it has a good balance of fatty acids, similar to those in olive oil.


The Most Expensive Ham in the World


Wondering where and how the most expensive ham in the world is sold? The ham from Dehesa de Maladúa in Huelva entered the Guinness Book of Records in 2016 as the most expensive to date, selling for €4,100 per piece.


Serrano ham is more than just food; it is a symbol of Spain's rich culinary tradition and culture. Enjoying it is a whole experience! And if you explore Spanish cities with the Spain Walking Tours apps, we will recommend various places to enjoy this and other culinary delights.

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