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miércoles, 29 de enero de 2014

CURED HAM, A GOURMET TREASURE: BASICS FOR BEGINNERS.



When you ask spanish people that live abroad about the things they miss, the first place is mostly for the cured ham. With the Spanish food there is nothing so iconic as the ham, a gourmet food which is generally served in thin slices. If you are on holidays here, you definitely should taste it. But it's better if you read something about it before.


In the Serrano Ham the fat is mainly separated of the muscle fiber, is not dispersed.
In the Serrano Ham the fat is mainly separated of the muscle fiber.
 
Ham has been elaborated for centuries in Spain, the largest producer in the world. Ranging in price from economical to very expensive, there are various types of cured ham,  the normal or Mountain Ham ("jamón serrano"), and the special or Iberian Ham ("jamón ibérico"). Both of them have differents qualities, that are sold in grocery stores, sausage shops and supermarkets, and sometimes with an Appellation of Origin.
 

Serrano Ham with toasted bread.

 The mountain or Serrano ham is made from several different breeds of pigs, that are fed mainly with cereals feeds. These hams are cured from 7 to 16 months.

The Iberian ham is made only from the Iberian breed pig (pure or mixed, both are allowed), and the curing process takes about 36 months. There are three types of Iberian Ham, depending of the pig's diet: Free range pigs that roam the holm oak forests, or the pigs are pastured and fed a mixed diet of acorns and grain, or the pigs are fed on grain in farm pigs. The first one is "Jamón Ibérico de Bellota", the finest and the most expensive of all hams.


Tipical image in the Iberian Ham, with fat very mixed with the muscle fiber.

Tipical image in the Iberian Ham, with fat very mixed with the muscle fiber.
 
 
So, the pig's diet determine the Iberian Ham quality... and the price, that are between 50 and 150 euros/kg.

And what´s the difference between Serrano and Iberian Ham? Mainly the lipid composition. The Iberian Ham is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, specially with high level of oleic acid (the same that in olive oil), due the feeding with acorn (“bellota”).

 
Tipical image in the Iberian Ham, with fat very mixed with the muscle fiber.
 
If you aren´t a little bit expert, it isn´t easy to know in a restaurant if the price of the Iberian Ham is correct with their quality. In this case it's better to choose Serrano Ham. The Iberian is best, but Serrano is also delicious. Maybe the price of the best Iberian Ham seems high, but it's really something special, it´s one of the greatest foods on the Earth. The only way to determine if it's worth is to taste it, buying some slices in a shop.

 And how to eat it? Always not cold, at room temperatura. The Iberian Ham alone, without mixing with other food. The Serrano Ham is best with toasted bread, with a little olive oil or a little natural scratched tomato  (or both), and also in sandwich. Of course with their best companion, a good red wine.