Understanding Jamón – Spain’s Famous Ham

Let’s start with the pronunciation: There’s an accent on the “O,” so the “Push” is on the last syllable. The Ja is almost like an H. HamON!

Jamón is at the heart of Spanish culture, and you’ll see it on menus all over Spain, as well as in people’s homes, mounted on a jamonero, a holder designed for the job, or even hanging from the ceiling on a rope.

Curing

A Jamón is made from the hind leg of a pig, and is cured using a simple process. First the leg is covered with sea salt, the rule of thumb being for one day per pound of meat.

Once they’ve had their time in salt, the hams are then rinsed and stored for one or two months to give the salt a chance to penetrate deep into the meat.

Next they are moved to the “secadero,” which is a drying room, where the temperature and humidity are carefully controlled through ventilation. The hams will spend 6 to 12 months in these rooms, where they will lose a considerable amount of weight as the fat melts into the muscle and the flavours develop. They are hung on ropes from the ceiling , with drip trays to capture any dripping fat.

Unlike Parma Hams, from Italy, for example, they are not covered in lard for this process. A ham master will determine when the process is finished, and at that point the Jamón Serrano will be ready to be sold.

Jamón Iberico will then be transferred to a Bodega, where they will undergo another 2 or more years maturing further, and again, the decision will be made by the ham master.

Jamón Serrano

About 90% of the production in Spain is Serrano. This is an every day eating ham, of decent quality and is good value for money. They are made from white pigs, usually fed on cereals, and they go perfectly on their own with wine, on breads or toasts, or in dishes such as croquettes, and even added to sautéed vegetables and stews.

It’s quite different to hams from other countries, because they are uncooked and because of the process used in their maturation. They are pinkish, firmer and marbled with fat.

Jamón Ibérico

The other 10% of production is Jamón Ibérico, and this meat is the pride of Spain. It is produced from black pigs from a line which dates back centuries and used to roam wild in Spain. These hams get an additional 2 or more years maturation, so they will have been matured for at least 3 years by the time you are enjoying them.

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota

This is renowned as being the finest ham in the world. It comes from black pigs that are free to roam the forests of western Spain, eating acorns – bellota is the Spanish word for acorns, and is pronounced Bay-otta. A leg can cost €2,000.

Bellota hams are aged for four years or more, and they can lose half their weight during the process. The acorns turn the pig fat into a monounsaturated fat, and this is as healthy as olive oil.

They have an incredibly complex taste, lots of marbling, and are best enjoyed in wafer thin slices with the best wine you can afford.

¡Buen provecho!

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