Serrano ham. It’s delicious. You can find it in nearly every bar and restaurant in Spain and pay anything from a few cents to hundreds of euros for the pleasure. A bit like whisky (but without the hangover) it’s quality and price depend on a mixture of maturity and raw ingredients.
It’s not just the ham itself that’s of interest but also all the paraphernalia that surrounds it. Hanging from ceilings, displayed on bars and eventually finding its way to your plate it has its own special set of equipment and procedures to help you enjoy it.
To cure the ham, it’s covered in salt to draw out the moisture whilst stored in a refrigerated room. The salt is then washed off. The ham is hung for about 6 months, during which time the fat begins to break down.
After that they are taken to special drying sheds called ‘secaderos’ where they are hung and left to dry naturally in the cool air for anything up to 18 months. Eventually, it’s taken down and fixed on special wooden clamps from which very thin slices can be cut using a very sharp, flexible knife.
The name ‘Serrano’ actually means ‘of the mountains’ and refers to the mountainous area across southern Spain which is the production centre for the industry. The cool, dry mountain air plays a vital part in achieving the ham’s final flavour.
The cost of the ham varies according to whether it is hind leg (jamón) or shoulder (paleta), the breed of the hog and its feeding conditions. The best hams are supposed to come from black Iberian hogs which are free-range. However, the majority of hams come from white hogs that have been fed with commercial feed. There is a stringent, quality control process that means that the hams are awarded certain classes. The highest quality hams are marked with a red band.
The ham should be served and stored at room temperature and should only be cut as needed. If you haven’t tried it already – you don’t know what you’re missing!