The Hams of Spain: Jamón Ibérico and Jamón Serrano
Jamón Ibérico and Jamón Serrano are often compared to Italy’s prosciutto. All three are dry-cured meats made from a pig or boar’s hind leg that are typically served as an antipasti in Italy or as tapas in Spain, which means they make for a great first course. They also work wonderfully as ingredients in bigger meals, including pizza and pasta.
While the production of these hams are similar, there are some key — and subtle — differences, which is one reason Spanish hams deserve some recognition all their own. After all, Spaniards not only produce the most ham in the world, but they also consume the most as well.
How the Hams of Spain are Different than Prosciutto
As any ham producer will tell you, climate makes a difference. Prosciutto is typically produced in the Italian region of Parma in a mild climate. While Serrano white pigs are also raised in a mild climate, to achieve the designation of “serrano,” they must come “from the mountains” as the word “serrano” implies. On the other hand, Ibérico hams are made with, you guessed it, Ibérico pigs from the Iberian Peninsula, where there is a plethora of woodlands.
What these pigs eat also influences their flavor, and it all depends on the producer. Most Ibérico pigs eat acorns, but many also graze on grains. Last but not least of course is the kind of pig. Each pig has its own qualities, which results in different flavors. Prosciutto is typically made with Duroc or Landrace pigs. Jamón Ibérico Pata Negra ham, on the other hand, translates to ‘black foot,’ and these pigs are known for storing fat, which is what gives the cured meat a wonderful marbled texture (and flavor).
Discovering Spanish Hams
While Spanish hams are imported into the U.S. — Ibérico hams only as recently as 2005 — it’s worth a trip to Spain to experience these cured meats from the source. Whether you’re heading to the regions of Andalusia or Catalonia for a Spanish cooking vacation, cured meats like Jamón Ibérico and Jamón Serrano, are an important, and delicious, part of the gastronomy. These famed meats are also available in Portugal, such as during our Libson Driving Tour, where you’ll taste not only premium Port wines but also Iberian sausages and hams that have been aged for decades, just as any Spanish cured meat should be.
By Liz Hall
Sign up to receive our newsletter, which includes travel tips, recipes, promotions, and information on our best culinary vacations.