Which is the best, Ibérico or Serrano ham?
Spanish food is very broad and historic, but there is definitely nothing quite as iconic as the famous Spanish jamón (ham). A plate with a selection of cheeses, olives, strips of jamón and a glass of smooth red wine, will always go down a treat.
Associated with Spain's rural past, more specifically the poor working class, the integration one of the most important animals, the pig, with rural communities would often be the main source of food for families. The pig would be fattened, maximizing the chance to feed a large family for longer. No part of the animal would be wasted, however in those times there were no fridges or even preservatives. Therefore, there had to be a way to preserve a good portion of the pig meat for future consumption. Purely out of the need to preserve as much of the meat as possible, curing hams has turned out to be one of the best ideas that is still largely acted today.
The production of cured hams has hit around 40 million each year. However, two types of cured hams exist: Jamón Serrano, meaning "ham from the Sierra" and are from the Landrace breed pig, and Jamón Ibérico, meaning "Iberian ham" and are from Dehesa pigs in Andalucía, Extremadura and Salamanca.
The Iberian Pata Negra or Black Hoof pig, is a traditional Spanish pig interbred with native wild boars and believed to be introduced by the Phoenicians. These pigs can be found grazing in the Dehesa, scrounging for fallen acorns from the great Holm Oaks, Gall Oaks and Cork Oak trees. This diet along with the free roam nature of the pigs in forests, produce meat that is rich with enhanced flavour, and with streaks of fat stored between muscle fibres creating the iconic taste that cuts above the rest. Three types of Jamón Ibérico exist and are dependent on the pigs' diet. This can determine the quality of ham, the authenticity and its price.
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota - This is finest ham that allows free range pigs that roam oak forests, and the meat is cured for at least 36 months.
Jamón de Recebo - These pigs are pastured and fed a mixed diet of acorns and grain, while only being cured for at least 24 months.
Jamón Ibérico de Cebo - Only fed grain, this type of pig meat is cured for up to 24 months.
Derived from white pigs that are hybrids of many different breeds, Jamón Serrano does not have the same quality as the Iberian pig meat production. Hence, this meat is cheaper than Ibérico meat, although it accounts for the majority of hams sold in Spain. These are no particular feeding methods for these pigs, only authorized commercial compound feed. Most of these pigs are not free roaming to same extent of the Ibérico pigs. Three types of Jamón Serrano exist and typically have the similar curing times, although the names of these hams do not say much about the quality but rather just individual brands and producers to differentiate from.
Serrano Bodega - Cured for up to 12 months.
Serrano Reserva - Cured for up to 15 months.
Serrano Gran Reserva - Cured for no longer than 15 months.
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