Jamón is a type of cured ham originating in Spain. The term jamón itself refers to the Spanish word for ‘ham’. Also sometimes referred to as jamón serrano (see below), it is one of the most globally recognised foods from Spanish cuisine and often served as part of tapas. There are two different types of jamón, based on the breed of pig used and protected designations. Jamón ibérico is made from the black Iberian pig, considered a gourmet delicacy when consumed around the world. Jamón serrano is an umbrella term for all other types of jamón.
Similar to proscuitto from Italy and presunto from Portugal, jamón is served thinly sliced and consumed in small portions. However its longer curing phase of up to 18 months gives jamón a drier texture and stronger flavour than other meats. You can also purchase jamón on the bone, although its fat is non-edible. This type of jamón is most often used by restaurateurs and retailers as it must be consumed faster than the pre-sliced variety due to the quick deterioration of the exposed meat. In some regions of Spain, like Castile and Leon, jamón is smoked before consuming. This gives the meat a denser texture and smokier flavour.
How is jamón produced?
To produce jamón, the fresh hind-leg of ham is first trimmed and cleaned, before being stacked and coated in several layers of salt. The meat is left to cure in its salt shell for anywhere between two weeks and three months. During this time, the salt draws out excess moisture and helps to preserve the meat. After this, the salt is washed off and the meat is left to hang dry for around 6 – 9 months. The space where it is dry depends on the climate, size, and type of the ham being used.
Once the drying process is over, the ageing process begins. The jamón is hung again for a period of 6 – 18 months in a cool, dark space with low humidity. In Spanish, this is referred to as ageing in the basement (envejecimiento en bodega). The drying sheds are often built at high elevations, giving jamón the colloquial term of ‘mountain meat’. This second process is just a further ripening of the ham that allows for more taste extraction to give the meat its maximum flavour attributes.
Health benefits of jamón
After this complicated ripening process, you achieve an end result of extremely tasty ham that is healthy and nutritious at the same time. With less fat than both fresh and cooked ham, jamón also has higher protein content. Additionally, you’ll find a variety of nutrients that are vital for human body function, including phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, and vitamins B1 and B6. Jamón also maintains its unique texture and flavour for long periods, without the need for flavour enhancers or artificial dyes and preservatives.
The difference between jamón serrano and jamón ibérico
While jamón serrano and jamón ibérico are both dry-cured hams made from the hind-leg, there are many differences between the two. Jamon ibérico is made only from pigs that are at least 75% black Iberian breed. Jamon serrano is made from white pig breeds. The feed of the pigs raised differs as well. Jamon iberico pigs are finished on a diet of acorns, giving the final product a smoother marbled texture, rich flavour, and different colouring than serrano. Because of the breed, feed type, and extra curing time, jamón ibérico is more highly prized than serrano, and is one of the most expensive hams in the world.
How to serve jamón
To fully appreciate the delicious taste of jamón, it should be served in the right form. Proper slicing is crucial, with extremely thin slices that guarantee a smooth and velvety texture, and help to extract the full bouquet of flavours on the palate.