In Spain, no food is held in higher esteem than the humble ham. In particular, Spaniards take great pride in their long tradition of cured hams called Spanish jamon. It’s common to see dozens of jamón legs in Spanish bars, restaurants, and even supermarkets that can be carved for hungry customers at a moment’s notice. On average, every Spanish citizen eats seven pounds of jamón per year. Like any other regional delicacy, there are many different varieties of Spanish jamon, all of which have slightly different flavors, textures, and price tags. One defining feature of Spanish jamón, however, is that it must be aged for at least 10 months before consumption.
History of Jamón
Some historians believe the history of eating ham in Spain goes all the way back to prehistoric times. Archeologists have discovered the remains of pigs in the Sierra de Atapuerca and many prehistoric cave paintings clearly show pigs scurrying about. We know for certain the Spanish were curing their hams around 77 AD thanks to the records of Roman Pliny the Elder. When the Moors took over in 711 AD, however, eating pork was banned under Muslim rule. Only after the Moors were expelled in 1492 AD could Spaniards once again openly embrace their ham-eating ways.
Types of Spanish Jamón | Jamón Serrano & Jamón Ibérico
The two major types of jamón enjoyed in Spain are Jamón Serrano and Jamón Ibérico. Despite being named after different regions, the differences between these pigs has everything to do with genealogy and little to do with geography. Jamón Serrano refers to the more common (and hence more inexpensive) pink and white breeds of pig. This type of ham was often used in peasant dishes and remains a staple in many Spanish recipes. Some of the more expensive Serrano varieties include Gran Reserva and Reserva.m On the other hand, Jamón Ibérico refers to a rare breed of pig that’s easily identifiable by its black skin and black hooves. Jamón Ibérico are highly coveted because they tend to have more fat, which makes it possible to cure them for a long period of time. The ultimate Jamón Ibérico is known as the Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. In contrast to standard Jamón Ibérico that are fed typical grains and corn, pigs destined to become Jamón Ibérico de Bellota are given a healthy dose of acorns throughout its lives. It’s believed these acorns release special antioxidants that extends the curing process to its maximum length.
When should you eat jamón?
Most Spaniards prefer to order jamón for tapas late in the day. Typically jamón is cut in thick pieces, so be sure to let your meat cutter know if you’d prefer a thinner slice. There’s nothing wrong with just ordering jamón, but it’s typical to enjoy this cured meat with a side or two of tapas. A few of the most common compliments to a jamón feast include olives, tomatoes, cheese, and bread. However you choose to eat your jamón, just be sure to sample this sumptuous staple of Spanish cuisine on your next vacation.