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It is one of the gastronomic symbols of Spain and one of the greatest exponents of our culinary culture. A food that fascinates locals and foreigners alike: ham. A product that can be found in two varieties: Iberian and Serrano. Although both offer a tasty taste that makes them a very appreciated type of food, the first of them stands out more for its unique characteristics. And between them there is a series of differences. Origin, type of pigs from which they come and the feed they follow (a fundamental factor), taste, texture …
Serrano ham is the most common that is usually bought in supermarkets because it is cheaper than Iberian ham
Knowing the characteristics of each one and being able to distinguish them will allow us to know at all times where the slice comes from before us, or that we are savoring in the mouth, and not make a mistake when ordering it.
This is the most common type of ham that is usually bought in supermarkets and consumed regularly because it is cheaper than Iberian ham. It comes from white pigs that may belong to different breeds, such as Duroc, Pietrain, Landrace and Large White. These can be raised and fed in a stable way or sometimes they can be released. The adjective ‘serrano’ receives it when this ham has been cured in a cold and dry mountain climate. And they also occur in foreign countries such as Portugal, France or Italy, among others. Depending on the time they have spent in the healing process, they are qualified as follows:
- Cellar ham: from 9 to 12 months of healing
- Ham reserve: from 12 to 15 months of healing
- Big reserve ham: more than 15 months of healing
As for the attributes and organoleptic qualities that define this meat of the serrano ham, it is easy to recognize it by the aspect it looks. It has a pink color that extends throughout the piece and has much less veins of fat than the Iberian, so it seems less bright and drier. As for the flavor, it is less juicy to the mouthful to take, as it has been mentioned, less fat and in addition it has a salty taste because it counts on a greater percentage of sodium in its composition.
Within this variety of ham, we find that in Spain there are two brands with designation of origin that protect and stimulate the production of this white pork. These are:
- The Trevélez ham, from the Alpujarra de Granada, which is one of the main products of the gastronomy of this mountain area, which is above 1,200 meters of altitude.
- The ham of Teruel: this was the first D.O of a ham in Spain. It occurs in the municipalities of said province and is never located below an altitude of 800 meters.
The Iberian ham is the most devastating because of its unmistakable flavor. It is one of the star products of Spanish cuisine, as it is only produced in our country and has characteristics that make it more appreciated than the mountain. This comes from Iberian pigs, which are exclusive because it is an endemic species here.
The feeding, and the way to make it, of these pigs ends up playing a fundamental role in the quality of the ham and can be divided into different labels depending on it:
- White label: is the one that comes from pigs fed with feed in intensive livestock.
- Green label: same feeding but in open pastures in extensive livestock where they can also eat grass.
- Red label: hams that come from crosses of pigs that are not 100% Iberian, raised in the wild and that feed on acorns and pastures only during their last fattening phase.
- Black label: these are the highest range and quality. Those of pure race, raised in freedom and fed only with acorns and pastures.
The Iberian hams, to complete their preparation, usually have a healing process of between two and four years. In the visual they stand out for having a bright and lively tone with many white streaks, result of the high component in fat they have. This gives it a juicy and tasty taste that is not dry in the mouth and that almost seems to melt. It is not as salty as the mountain and has a much stronger smell that makes it unmistakable.
In Spain we find that there are a total of four denominations of origin that represent the best production of this ham. They are the following:
- Jabugo, originally from Huelva
- Los Pedroches, from Córdoba
- Jamón de Guijuelo, from the municipalities to the southeast of the province of Salamanca.
- Dehesa de Extremadura, coming from the homonymous areas of said community.