Types of Spanish ham

Iberian Ham (Jamon Iberico pata negra)

  features of spanish iberian ibericopata negra  bellota ham

Origin: Race of pigs from the Iberian Peninsula based on pure registered Iberian pigs crossed with other Iberian males.

Appearance: Pointed and narrow snout animal with short black hair. Despite the volume of body mass, it has a stylized body and thin long paw.

The hoof: Usually black. This is the reason why it is known as "Pata Negra", which means black paw.

Colour, flavour and aroma:The colour of iberico ham goes from pink to purplish red. It has a slightly fibrous texture and fat infiltrations. The combination of the delicate flavour and intense aroma of this delicious food, makes it an attractive, indispensable product in every good gourmet table.

The fat: The iberian pigs genetics provides them with a natural fat infiltration in their muscle tissue. This provides the oily texture and intense flavour of the Iberian ham. This fat is bright, smooth and extremely soft to the touch.


  types of spanish iberian iberico bellota pata negra ham jamon

The official classification of Iberian ham depends on their nutrition and the amount of acorns consumed. There are 4 types of Iberian ham or shoulder ham:

  • Iberico “pata negra” Cebo: Farm-raised pigs fed exclusively with natural compound feed.
  • Iberico “pata negra” Cebo de campo: Pork raised in the countryside, where it feeds on grass and natural compound feed (legumes and cereals). In the acorn season of the year they can also enjoy the fruit of the oaks.
  • Iberico “pata negra” Recebo: Pork raised in a pasture, eating grass and natural compound feed. During the acorn season of the year they eat acorns. It’s the failure to get its proper weight to become a Bellota, because its diet is filled also with natural cereals and legumes, in addition to acorns.
  • Iberico “pata negra” Bellota: The highest quality of Iberian ham. These animals are raised free in the Extremadura pastures. In the acorn season they are feed on acorns and grass with no added compound feed to their diets.

The good Iberian ham is the result of the perfect combination of a good raising process of a pure-bred Iberian pig, natural food and traditional production process, especially the drying process.

Serrano Ham (Jamon Serrano)

  types of spanish serrano bodega gran reserva ham jamon

Origin: There are written references about the Serrano ham in Hispania, late 2nd century BC, by the Romans.

Appearance: Also called white pig, because is usually white skin and clear hoof.

The hoof: Usually clear brown.

Colour, aroma and texture: The colour varies from pink to purple tones: mild flavour, slightly salty and pleasant aroma. It is also homogeneous and slightly fibrous texture. Compared to the Iberian, aroma, flavour and texture are slightly softer.

The fat: It's bright, yellowish white in colour, aromatic and pleasant taste.


The official classification of the Serrano ham depends on the dry curing and maturation. There are 3 types of Serrano ham :

  • Serrano Bodega: Curing time from 10 to 12 months.
  • Serrano Reserva: Curing time from 12 to 15 months.
  • Serrano Gran Reserva: More than 15 months of curing time.

Ham production

The Extremadura pastures - La Dehesa

  extremadura spanish iberian iberico pata negra bellota ham

The Dehesa is the area of pastures and oak forest where Iberian pigs are raised traditionally in Extremadura, Spain.

Extremadura is a region of great ecological value and mostly uninhabited. Its Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and long mild winters makes it ideal for raising the Iberian pig.

In Extremadura there are about a million hectares of pastures and another million hectares of forest. This combination forms an ecological paradise.

Some oak acorns are sweeter than others, so the Iberian pigs look for them like children look for candies. They can eat about 7 kg per day.

The search for acorns provides the Iberian pigs two very important things. First, the infiltration of the fat in the muscular tissue, due to exercise derived from the search of acorns. Secondly, the coming benefits of a healthy and an abundant natural diet.

The large area devoted to each animal provides a great nutrition and an optimal development of the Iberian pig. So we can get the best Iberian ham.

To get the most out of the oak trees, there is the “vareado” (a person hitting the tree with a long stick) used to bring down the acorns so that the pigs can enjoy them freshly when fallen from the tree.

Traditional dry curing process

  Traditional dry curing process of spanish pata negra iberian iberico bellota ham

The ham production process is slow and laborious. It can last between 15 months and 3 years. The process consists of 5 stages:

  • Reception of raw product.

In this stage there are extreme quality controls to ensure that the meat arrives in proper sanitary conditions, rejecting any non-compliant product. The analysis is taken place to define the type of Iberian ham that it’s going to become after the whole process.

  • Salting and washing

Salting is one of the oldest forms of preserving meat in natural conditions, without artificial preservatives. Today this natural preserving form is still used to get the best Spanish ham.

Hams are buried in salt between layers of salt.

  • Resting time

In this stage the hams are left in cold storage approximately 90 days. Certain conditions of temperature and humidity are need so that the salt is equally distributed through all pieces, in order to promote dehydration and conservation.

The temperature and the humidity are gradually raised and later on they are reduced slowly.

When temperature and humidity conditions inside the resting chambers are consistent with those in the natural drying ones, the hams are moved to the maturation stage.

  Traditional dry curing and maturation process of spanish iberian pata negra iberico bellota ham
  • Drying and maturation

In this stage hams are settle in natural cellars (bodegas) where they are dried in the traditional way.

Hams rest hanging for months (depending of the type) to acquire the texture, the maturation, the taste and aroma appropriate for the curing process. This process distributes the fat between the muscle fibbers which allows it to retain its best aroma.

  • The “Bodega” stage

Hams are hung in natural cellars for a period of time which depend on the type of piece you want to obtain. During this period they will lose between 30% and 40% of their initial weight.

The Ham Master (Maestro Jamonero) role is extremely important in this process because he controls the time of the different stages, depending on the characteristics of each group of hams.

Parts of the Spanish ham

 parts of the spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham

The different parts of the ham provide different degrees of curation and different types of slices.

  • [1] La Maza: The largest part of the ham and tastiest one. If you put the piece facing the hoof, the part we see in front of us is “la maza”.
  • [2] La Babilla o Contramaza: The part behind the “maza”. It is narrower and dryer because it’s covered with less fat. We recommend you start cutting the ham from here, so that we can avoid it dries too much while you eat the “maza”.
  • [3] El Codillo: Located between the “caña” and the “maza”. It is the more fibrous part of the whole piece.
  • [4] La Punta: Totally opposed to the hoof. It is very tasty and has a good level of fat.
  • [5] La Caña: The closest part to the hoof. Being also very fibrous is usually cut in small cubs for “tapas”. This form provides different flavour and texture of the slices.

What’s the difference between ham and ham shoulder?

 diferences beetween ham and shoulder ham spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham

Being the ham the back leg and the shoulder ham the front leg of the pig, we present a list of differences between them.

Specific features of the ham, the back leg:

  • Approximate weight: between 6.5 and 8.5 kg
  • The proportion of bone and fat is approximately 50% of the total weight.
  • Longer curing time than the ham shoulder: from 15 to 36 months.
  • Higher price.
  • Their anatomy allows easier cutting and bigger slices.

Specific features of the shoulder ham, the front leg:

  • Approximate weight between 4 and 5.5 kg
  • The proportion of bone and fat is approximately 60% of the total weight.
  • Shorter curing time: 12 to 24 months depending on the quality.
  • Cheaper than the ham for the same quality.
  • The anatomical shape of the bones makes its cutting a little more complicated than the back leg ham.

How to cut Spanish ham into slices?

Before starting the cut - Suggestions

 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham

The best secret to cut either a shoulder ham or a ham, is practice. So the first cuts are not the best but over time you will improve the technique.

We want to propose you some general ideas and practical advice to get started in the art of cutting ham. Some suggestions:

  • Choose a spacious and suitable place for cutting.
  • Prepare the necessary tools:
    • A jamonero (ham holder) to support the piece firmly and sharpened knives:
 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham
  • One long and flexible to slice.
  • One short and rigid to peel the skin.
  • A plate to deposit the ham slices
  • Watch closely where you place your free hand (that that is not holding the knife). Never put it in front of the cutting direction, the knife could slip… and then…
  • Get ready to enjoy the art of cutting ham. Take your time.

How to cut a Spanish ham into slices?

 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham

There are several options to cut a ham. We recommend you to start cutting it from the drier part, in order to avoid it’s left to the end when it would be too dry.

Where do I place the ham?

  • Place the ham on a ham holder with the “contramaza” up (narrower and drier part), hoof down. The ham holder needs to be heavy enough to avoid it moves when we start the cut.

How do I start to cut?

 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham
  • Cut the outer parts yellowish skin and fat until the pink fat and a little of ham shows.
  • We recommend peeling the parts of the ham as you cut. Start always one or two inches below the cut to avoid slices with skin on them.
  • Do never peel the whole piece if you are not going to consume it in one day. The outer skin protects the ham and prevents it to dry too quickly.

 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham

Let’s cut those delicious slices of ham

  • Cut thin long slices from the top of the “barbilla” to the bottom part. Move the knife as if you play a violin, gently and firmly. Keep the cut surface flat and straight.
  • This part is less fatty due to the lower proportion of fat in this area. That’s why it is drier and we recommend to begin cutting it by this side to avoid it dry too much.
  • When the knife cuts only half of the length of the slice, keep on cutting from there so you maintain a flat surface.

 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham



  • Repeat the process until the central bone (femur) shows. Finish all the ham in this part because what is left will dry very fast.

 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham



  • When you reach this point turn the ham over with the “maza” up. This part has the top area with hard skin. You may cut it with a hard small knife.



 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham



  • Make a first cut perpendicular to the ham in the highest part of the “maza”, near the “caña”. (See the photo).
  • This cut will make easier cut this part and will let us star the cut from them top.
  • Just as you did in the previous section, we will peel the area you plan to slice.

 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham
  • By going deeper slice to slice, its reddish-purple area will occupy more cutting surface and the fat will fade. Keep the cut straight and flat to have longer slices and a professional cut.
  • When you see the hip bone, cut around the bone with a small knife to separate it from the meat. Now when you cut a slice, the ham comes detached from the bone.
  • When you get back to the femoral bone the main part of the ham is finished.

 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham
  • If there is some ham on the bone alone, take it out with a small knife. Make cubes or small pieces to experience different taste, flavour and texture.

Now your ham is finish, all left is the bone. You can cut it with a saw into pieces and used them for a good, delicious soup. Let it boil in the soup for 20 minutes and you’ll get an exquisite dish. The rest of the pieces of the bone can be keep in the freezer for later use.

We hope that these guidelines will be practical to cut your ham and enjoy the task and the product.

How to cut a shoulder ham into slices?

 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra shoulder ham

Placing the shoulder ham

  • In the shoulder ham it’s not so important where you start cutting, because its consumption is done in less time and the dry process of both sides is nearly the same.
  • However, if you put the hoof down you’ll find almost no fat, being the most tasty and cured part. With the hoof down you’ll find the tender part with sweeter flavours and with a higher proportion of fat. In our example we will start with the hoof down.

 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra shoulder ham



Peeling the shoulder ham


 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra shoulder ham



  • Remove the outer skin and fat to avoid rancid flavour in the slices.
 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra shoulder ham




Let’s cut some slices

  • Begin to cut from the top to the bottom (see photo). Make small slices that fit into the mouth.
  • The big difference of the shoulder ham is the flat bone on the bottom part, the shoulder blade.

 cut into slices of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra shoulder ham





  • The shoulder blade is flat outside and T shaped in the interior. This form makes a perpendicular cut the best option.




Facts about ham

Conservation of a whole Spanish ham

 conservation of whole spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham

Tips for better preservation of your whole Spanish ham:

  • Store it in cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
  • Do not cover with plastic or silver paper, it need to “breath”.
  • If you live in dry areas, cover the cut area with grease from the ham to prevent drying.
  • Let the slices have a little fat around it, the taste of the ham becomes even better.
  • Peel the ham when you are going to cut it. Never peel it completely if you are not going to consume in a single day.

Conservation of a boneless Spanish ham

 conservation of boneless spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham

Tips for better preservation of your boneless ham:

  • Store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, for example in the oven.(take it out when you cook, ok?)
  • Put the block on a plate to collect the oil.
  • Cover it with a clean cloth or a towel paper.
  • Do not cover with plastic or silver paper, it will not breath.
  • To cut it, place it on a cutting surface and cut with a sharp knife easyly.
  • Cut just as much as you eat, nothing is better than a ham cut just before you serve it.

La Cala - How to select a good ham?

 seleccion of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham  seleccion of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham

To select the ham or a shoulder ham in its optimum curing point is a not an easy task. You need an specialist with experience on this field. When we receive your order of a ham, we select your ham within its ideal curing point with the weight you demand. This important process is carried out using all our senses:

  • The sense of touch allows us to know the curing process of the ham, touching all the different parts of it. The exterior fat provides us information about the quality and how it has been cured successfully.
  • The sense of sight gives us information about the proportion of fat. The different colour in the ham explains about the curing process and some areas used to have wrinkles on the skin.
  • The sense of smell comes with the “cala” process. This is a sharpened beef bone which is introduced near the ham’s bone to check its aroma. We get information about the curing process, the salt and the quality of the product.
  • The sense of taste is not our job, that’s left to you when you enjoy such a delicious dish.


What are the white specks in the ham?

 white speks of spanish iberian iberico bellota serrano pata negra ham

Often when you buy a ham or shoulder ham you notice some white specks that appear when you cut it. Maybe you thought that there is something wrong with the ham...Nothing further from the truth.

These white specks on our ham are the result of crystallization of an amino acid called tyrosine. It is the result of natural curing process, being a sign of quality and excellence of the product.

The Pata Negra, Spanish Iberian

  pata negra, iberian iberico spanish bellota ham jamón

The term “Pata Negra” refers to the Spanish Iberian breed. The reason is that the black hoof most Iberian pigs have, “pata negra” means black paw. Nowadays the label "pata negra" is also used as a distinction of gourmet products.

However, not all Iberian hams have black hoof and not all the hams which have black hoof are Iberian hams.

The different branches of the Iberian breed pigs may have hoofs not always black. We can find red Iberian pigs or stained Iberian pigs which can have clear or light hoof.

Spanish ham and good health

 

Iberian ham has countless health benefits substantiated by studies from prestigious universities.

This product of Spanish cuisine has more protein than fresh pork, 50% more, in 100g of iberian ham there are 33% of the proteins we need for our day. It is for these that this product is of great interest for high-protein diets.

The Bellota ham is also very rich in calcium and phosphorus, and also contains vitamins B1, B2 and iron.

 

The good fat of the Bellota Pata negra ham

Acorns fed pigs have a higher proportion of unsaturated fats that lower cholesterol and counteract the effects of cardiovascular disease, improving the circulatory system.

The best iberian ham is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid is well suited for most recent dietary recommendations considered a healthy fat.

The cholesterol content in the ham is very low, (30-40 mg/100 g), which is even lower than the rate of lean meats like chicken or turkey, very low in cholesterol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spanish ham production zones

 

The Iberian pig breeding areas are placed in the south and south west of Spain.

There are four areas that, by tradition and climatic conditions are which produces almost the entire Iberian ham production: Extremadura, Guijuelo in Salamanca, Jabugo in Huelva and the Pedroches in Cordoba.

 

Each of these areas have the climate, the terrain and the environment for the Iberian pig breeding and drying process. They also have large areas of fields to allow the pigs to graze and eat the precious acorns in the season when they fall from the trees..

 

The Iberian pig is a breed of pig that only is bred in Spain and especially to make ham. This breed is much larger than the white pig, the normal pig. The fat infiltrate between the meat making it marbled and produces a mellow taste which is totally different than any other ham. It is true that the Iberian pig has a lot more fat which help to protect them in the years of curing and drying.

 

Extremadura, the paradise of the oak fields

 

Extremadura is the largest producer of ham and place where the "Dehesa" takes its name. The "Dehesa" is the fields of oak trees where the iberian pigs live and eat the acorns.

 

It is one of the least populated areas Spain which is perfect for Iberian pig breeding and for the Bellota ham curing process. Extremadura is about one million hectares of surface.

 

The fields of Extremadura in Cáceres and Badajoz are the ideal place for the Iberian pig exercise while consuming the fruit of the oak trees, the Acorn (Bellota). Due to the specificity of Iberian breed ("Pata Negra"), the exercise mix with the acorn diet makes the fat infiltrates inside the pork meat giving a juicy texture and taste.

Salamanca, the big industry from Guijuelo

 

 

The fields where the iberian pigs a raised are located in the provinces of Salamanca, Toledo and Zamora near the mountains of Gredos and Béjar. The curing ham process is perform in the southwest of Salamanca where the altitude of the area contributes to the drying process.



Guijuelo is located in the province of Salamanca. This town concentrate a large number of companies of the Iberian industry. A few years ago the overproduction led to the zone depend on the industry in a very high proportion.



In the province of Salamanca also produces a lot of white pigs for Serrano ham.

 

 

Huelva, the Jabugo ham

 

For many years it was identified the term Jabugo ham with Iberico ham. This fact makes that many people when asking for iberian ham ask for Jabugo ham.

 

In this area is located in the mountains of Huelva where the climate and altitud is adecuate for the breeding of the iberian pigs.

 

The landscape of this area is very similar to Extremadura.

 

Córdoba, Los Pedroches

 

 

The production area of Iberian ham Pedroches is located in the province of Cordoba and meets the municipalities of Adamuz, Hornachuelos, Guest Obejo, Montoro, Villaharta and Villaviciosa de Córdoba.

 


 

 

 

 

 


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