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In America Prosciutto is known as the king of the cured ham. However, the Spaniards might contest that claim. Jamon Serrano and Jamon Iberico is their own version of cured ham. The prices that they command can easily rival that as prosciutto. While these hams may look similar to the untrained eyes, there are stark differences in the flavor and production of it.
Best Jamon Serrano and Jamon Iberico
Since most of the readers here live in America, our choices are a bit limited. The prices are a bit high as well, but you are getting the whole legs. So whether its worth it depends on you. I hope you brush up on your slicing skills.
5J Jamon Iberico de Bellota, Whole Bone-in Ham – 14 to 18 lbs (Best Overall)
If you want to experience Black Label Jamon Iberica then this is your best bet. Their pigs are free ranging and acorn feed for maximum flavor. The Hoof has to be removed per usda regulation but it should be the black pigs. One thing you should be prepared for is the price. Never said it was the cheapest.
Serrano Ham Bone in from Spain 15 – 17 lb (Best Buy)
This is one of the most affordable option if you want authentic Spanish ham. It comes with a stand so that you can display it in your kitchen or mini bar. The hoof is removed so you dont have to deal with that and its nitrate free.
Iberian Pigs vs Parma Pigs
Iberians pigs are a special breed of pigs raised specifically for ham. They are descendants of Wild Boars and must have a specific diet. These pigs must be free roaming and must have a minimum space of two pigs per hectare. In the regions where they are raised, there is a abundant amount of Nuts and Berries the most important being acorn. This diet is critical in developing the distinct flavors of the pigs.
In the past, Jamon Serrano used only Iberico Pigs to produce the ham. However, as time went on, they started to use more modern breeds of pigs. Jamon Iberico, still uses Iberian pigs to produce their ham. Depending on the grade of the ham, you will get different labels. Black for example will use 100% Iberian pigs, while red will use a pig whose mom is Iberian while the father is a Duroc Pig. Pigs who are free ranged but have not eaten acorn, will be green label. Finally white label is the lowest grade of pig, which is a country side pig.
It use to be only pigs from Parma that can be used for Prosciutto, these days any pigs from Italy will do. However, these pigs must be raised according to Consorzio standard. They are a self regulating governing body for food. Every farm who raises these pig must be approved before hand. Pigs must be at least nine month old and weight between 320-420 pounds. No drugs such as growth hormone can be used in the pigs. Their final four month before slaughter must be in central italy and have a diet consisting of Corn, Barley, and Whey from Parmigiano Reggiano.
Jamon Serrano vs Jamon Iberico vs Prosciutto Production
Production of these hams are very similar initially. After slaughter, the hind legs are burried in salt to be cured. The salt is then washed off and then left to hang in a temperature controlled room. This process draws out the moisture and reduce the amount of harmful bacteria.
When it comes to aging, this is where it differs. In the aging of prosciutto, the ham is covered in a coat of fat to keep it moist and succulent. In Spanish ham, the goal is to reduce the amount of moisture to concentrate the flavor. Much like how reducing sauces increase the flavor.
Mold is also another factor that differs. Prosciutto manufacturer try their best to reduce the amount of mold formation. However, Spanish ham will actually encourage it. Traditional manufacturer of Spanish ham will move the ham into a more free breathing room that will take in the flavor of its environment. The mold on the ham will vary in color from green to white to black. This mold actually works to protect the inside of the ham. Modern manufacturer might omit this step for health and safety reason.
Prosciutto can be aged from anywhere between ten month to two years. While Spanish ham has a minimum of one year.
Slicing Spanish Ham
One interesting thing about slicing Spanish Ham is the presentation. If you buy a whole leg or go to a butcher. They will have a stand just for the ham. They will usually use a long flexible knife to match the contour of the legs. Each slice should be cut thin and with the grain. This ensures that you get the right texture and flavor from the meat. Cutting it too thick can ruin the overall experience. A good slice of Spanish ham will have a ratio of both meat and fat. Getting Spanish ham without the fat is sacrilegious and ruin the flavor of it. Do not remove the fat from your ham, its where the flavor is.
How to Eat Jamon Serrano and Jamon Iberico
The best way to enjoy these ham is to eat thin slices of it. It is there where you can truly enjoy the flavor of it. However, it is quite common to use these ham in sandwiches, tapas, paired with fruits and soups. You can basically use these ham wherever you would a traditional ham. Just be aware that it can be quite expensive if used in such a way. I personally like pairing it with a simple baguette with some olives. They pair perfectly with the ham.
Jamon Nutrition and Health
The nutrition and health should be similar to most cured meat. However, one key thing is the lack of Nitrate in the traditionally made one. This means that they are one of the healthiest cured meat around. You dont have to worry about cancer like you would from bacon. In terms of nutrition, these hams are high in saturated fat and salt. But if you compare it to junk food, its pretty mild. I would not hesitate to eat it.
Below you will find the Nutritional Facts for Jamon.
|100 g (3.5oz)
Jamon Serrano Costco
If you have a costco nearby, you can find it there occasionally. If you are lucky and they are on clearance, you can get it at a fraction of the price. The best thing about costco is that you are ensured freshness and you can check it right after you buy it. Only issue is that they dont always have it. Other than costco, you have amazon or some specialty shops.
While Spanish Ham might seem like a inferior cousins to Prosciutto, that is far from the truth. A large part is due to it being banned by the government. It never got the time to develop the reputation that prosciutto has. If you get a chance, I would definetly try it out. You might find that you enjoy it more than prosciutto.