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There is nothing more Spanish than dry-cured ham, or in other words, Jamón Serrano and Jamón Ibérico. This country ham is a national treasure shared in Spain by all walks of life. But do we really understand, what are the differences between the types of ham we can find in the market?
Not sure? Let’s dive in…
To start with just by name, we are signaling a major difference in the ham… the race of the pork from which it is made. In the case of Serrano, the white races we all know so well (Duroc, Landrace and Large White being the most common), in the case of Ibérico, the characteristic race of the Iberica Peninsula.
But this is only the beginning of the differences we will find between these two types of Spanish hams. Next one is related to the rearing process and feeding. Serrano ham is made out from pigs which are bred in farms eating grain, while Iberico ham is made out from pigs which live free roaming in the “Dehesas” following mainly an acorn based diet.
And then last but not least, we have to talk about the elaboration process. Iberico hams follow a more artisanal procedure while Serrano’s is generally more industrial. Accordingly, in Serrano we are talking about much shorter curing processes, ranging from 12-24 months (and sometimes even shorter), while in Iberico they range from 14-42 months.
You are probably thinking that these ranges are pretty big, and you are certainly right. All the points we have gone through so far vary substantially from one producer to the other, thus giving us different qualities amongst both Serrano and Iberico.
For example in Serrano we have two Origin Denominations, Jamón de Trevelez and Jamon de Teruel, which offer us greater guarantees quality wise that any other Serrano hams we might find.
On the Iberico side, the gap between producers can be even greater. There are many subcategories amongst Iberico hams, in relation to the purity of the breed, the intensive vs. extensive rearing process, the diet followed by the pork and the curing process.
Unfortunately labeling is not as clarifying as it should be and consumers are forced to look carefully at packaging to scape generalizations which can end in the acquisition of a product which is not what you were looking for. Take some tips to make sure than when you look for quality that’s what you will get:
- Purity of race: look for 100% iberico or pure in the package
- Rearing process and feeding: look not only for “bellota”, but for the number of months spent in “montanera” (acorn season), the higher the better. Also look for the length of time spent free-roaming, if it is since they are piglets or just in the final period of their lives
- Curing process: look for the number of months curing, the highest the number the better the product. Then of course, the time and care spent on each product makes a difference
As we have gone through a great amount of information we leave you with a small table in which you can read through quick tag points summarizing everything discussed so far.
Name Cured ham, “Serrano ham” Duroc ham Iberico “cebo” ham Iberico “recebo” ham Iberico bellota ham Juan Pedro Domecq ham
Breed White pig: Mix of Duroc, Landrace, Large White, Pietrain Duroc 50% Iberico; 50% Duroc 50% Iberico; 50% Duroc Iberico mother and crossed stud (50%-75% iberico-Duroc) 100% pure iberico (100% Iberico mother and stud)
Rearing process Factory farmed (Intensive) Factory farmed (Intensive) Factory farmed (Intensive) Factory farmed and free roaming in part of acorn season Free roaming in final months (acorn season) Free roaming throughout their lives
Feeding Feed grains Feed grains Feed grains Feed grains and short “Montanera” -Acorn and natural herbs- “Montanera” -Acorn and natural herbs- Duration: 2 months “Montanera” -Acorn and natural herbs- Duration: 4 months
Drying process 12-24 months 14-30 months 14-36 months 14-36 months 24-38 months 36-42 months