Spanish ham – or jamón Serrano – is just one of the many jewels of Spanish food.
Deliciously healthy, with an exquisite taste, it’s ideal both as tapas and as part of a main meal… especially when washed down with a ruby red glass of smooth Rioja wine.
But, what exactly is Serrano ham, how is it made, what are its health benefits? And, how about the king of Spanish hams – jamón Ibérico? How does Ibérico ham differ from Serrano ham? And, what is “pata negra”, and what does it mean?
First of all, let’s get the pronunciation and meaning clear. It’s pronounced “ham-ON”, with “jamón” meaning “ham”, and “Serrano” being the equivalent of sierra or Mountains. For, traditionally, Spanish hams are cured in hilly or mountainous countryside.
Serrano ham is made from white pigs and, after being killed in November, the hams are tucked between layers of sea salt and curing salts for a few days – normally 24-48 hours per kilo.
The salt is then cleaned off, and the curing and aging process takes place, normally lasting some 12-14 months.
During this time, a specialist will regularly pierce the ham with a cow bone and sniff it, to ascertain the quality of the ham.
At the end of the curing process, the hams will have lost as much as 40% of their original weight, the meat now being dark-red in color, and the fat moist and yellowy.
Iberian pigs differ from their Serrano cousins in that they’re nearly always black, with black hoofs. This is where the term “pata negra” comes in, for it means “black hoof”.
It’s the free-range diet of the Iberian pigs that makes their ham superior to that of the ordinary Serrano pig, plus a longer curing process of 18 months to 3 years.
The king of the Iberian ham is the “Bellota” ham, for these pigs are fattened exclusively on acorns. And, yes, the Spanish for acorn is “bellota”!
Health Benefits of Spanish Ham
Normally-speaking, too much fat from ordinary ham is not terribly good for you, as it clogs your arteries.
But Spanish ham is very unusual… tests have shown that its fat content is monounsaturated. In other words, it won’t clog your arteries and, in fact, is high in healthy Omega-3. In Spain, the ham is known as “the 4-footed olive tree” because it’s so good for you!
So, when you’re enjoying paper-thin slices of Spanish ham, rest assured that it’s not only delicious, but is not playing havoc with your cholesterol!