A trip to Spain is incomplete without having Jamón, which is the Spanish dry-cured ham. You can just see them everywhere- bars, restaurants and markets. They look a bit like the Chinese version on the outside but while we cook ours, the Spanish do not. They love pairing it with melon which is sweet and moist.
In the famous Boqueria Market in Barcelona, I was curious to see the large price differences among all the Jamón, which ranged from Euro 35/kg to Euro176.60/kg. I decided to do a taste test between the most expensive Jamón, Jamón Ibérico de Bellota , and the cheapest one, Jamón Serrano Bodega.
Sample 1 (photo above):
The meat was dark red and beautifully marbled with fat, with a subtle golden colour. It was moist and smooth in the mouth. The fat was soft and rich in flavour with a hint of sweetness. It felt like it melted in my mouth! It was not too salty which was fantastic! Amazing!
Sample 2 (photo above):
It was relatively light red in colour and was less marbled with fat. It had a slightly tougher texture than Sample 1 and it was more chewy. Its taste was a little similar to the processed English ham or normal meat.
Which one do I prefer?
I do not mind having Sample 2 if I was never given Sample 1. However, Sample 1 had an amazing flavour was quite unforgettable.
However, my mom said she actually preferred Sample 2 as it had a more ‘familiar’ taste!
Ibérico are the original swine of Spain. They are known as ‘Black foot pigs’ in UK because of their black hooves. Actually they have a black body as well and do not have much hair. They are big with slender legs and a very long snout. They have a high a level of fat and have veins of fat running through their muscles. One of my favourite dishes at Dinner by Heston is the pork chop made from this pig.
Bellota means acorn. According to Jamon.com, Jamón Ibérico de Bellota are made from ‘lucky’ Ibérico pigs which spend most of their time wandering around the pastures in the dehesa (oak tree), foraging their beloved acorns, which are full of antioxidants, as well as herbs and grasses. They are happy pigs. Each pig can eat 10kg of acorns (and gain 2 pounds of fat) a day!
Jamón Ibérico (Jamón made from Ibérico pigs not fed mainly acorn diet) is made by packing the fatty legs in sea salt for a few weeks and hanging them dry in cool mountain air for about two years. Jamón Ibérico de Bellota usually have an even longer curing period. The antioxidant diet led to huge amount of fat on each ham. Over the curing period, they lose nearly half their weight as the fat drips away. The salted ham starts to sweat as the season changes and the weather gets warmer each year, the meat becomes dryer and cools off again in winter. This cycles takes place two to three times. The fats are broken down gradually and the flavour develops through time. Apparently, the saturated fats are changed into mono-saturated fats high in oleic acid and is only second to olive oil in terms of high oleic acid content. Wow!
Serrano was derived from the word ‘Sierra’, which means ‘Mountain’. According to Jamon.com, traditionally, fresh hams are cured in mountainous areas with moderate climates that are warm and dry in summer and cold in winter. The hams are first covered in sea salt which was washed off after a few days. The hams are then hung in curing sheds, where they are dry-cured by mountain air. Unlike Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, Jamón Serrano only take 1 year to cure and most of them are produced by artificially replicating traditional methods with modern technology.
The European Union protects the process of Jamón Serrano production thanks with certification T.S.G. (Traditional Specialty Guaranteed). This protects the authentic taste of Jamón Serrano and insures to the consumers that it refers to a historical, authentic and genuine product. In 1990 the Consorcio del Jamón Serrano Español was established to bring together Spain’s principal producers/exporters of Serrano ham. Inspectors of the Consorcio ensure that the private standards (see below) of the Association are properly applied.
•T.S.G. Serrano ham certification
•Production in Spain
•Average 12 months air dry cured (minimum 252 days)
•Minimum fat cover of 1 cm.
•Must have a 34% decrease from its fresh weight
•Each piece must pass individual sensory inspection
•It must be produced by firms that pass the quality audits that are periodically performed by the Consorcio
Were Jamón Ibérico de Bellota 5 times more than tastier than Jamón Serrano Bodega, just like their price?
I do not think so but the former did taste better. Considering it is unlikely for me to eat a kilo of Jamón in one go (thus paying for an extra Euro141.60 for that), I am happy to a modest premium of Euro14.16 for 100g of indulgence!