Few things are more quintessentially Spanish than Jamón Ibérico, but what do you actually know about it other than it tastes absolutely delicious and utterly unique?
Basco founder Javier De La Hormaza decided to create the definitive guide to Jamón Ibérico. He took time out to talk extensively with Ricardo Sanchez, Director and 4th generation of world famous Ibéricos Arturo Sánchez – a company with more than a century of tradition, experience and craftsmanship in producing Iberian pork products. This is the ultimate guide.
Ricardo speaks from experience and defines true Jamón Ibérico as ham made exclusively from pure-bred black Iberian pigs. Why Iberian pigs? Because this particular breed has a greater capacity for fat infiltration into muscle tissue. This is what gives Jamón Ibérico its unique flavour and texture.
In the case of Arturo Sánchez Jamón Ibérico, they work with the best breeders in the North of Seville and the South of Extremadura to individually select each pig to ensure purity of their Iberian pigs.
Ricardo reveals that unlike other acorn-fed producers, their pigs are reared using a double-montanera process where they are raised in the wild, feeding freely on 100% natural holm oak and cork oak acorns, and grass, from autumn to March for two consecutive years. This gives them a distinctive pure and balanced flavour.
In the case of Ricardo’s treasured 100% acorn-fed Iberian hams, every detail of the curing process is carefully considered. Each ham is cured for a minimum of 48 months to achieve its impeccable flavour – this is considerably longer than Serrano or other Iberian hams. Where they are cured also makes a difference. For example, Arturo Sánchez cures them in their Guijuelo cellars where the cold and dry wind from the Béjar and Gredos mountains accentuates the flavour.
Sliced Jamón Ibérico ham is easy to store in a refrigerator at a temperature of between 2 to 8ºC. This will not only prolong the life of the ham, but also maintain its wonderful flavour and texture. Javier recommends either hand-carved Arturo Sánchez Jamon Iberico de Bellotta or Jamon Iberico de Cebo ham.
If your Jamón Ibérico is sliced and vacuum sealed, then yes, it does need to be refrigerated. However, whole hams, if stored correctly do not need to be refrigerated.
It is possible to freeze Jamón Ibérico, however, from a flavour and texture point of view, it will never be the same.
There is a distinct art to slicing Jamón Ibérico. Two excellent 100% Bellota whole hams available from Basco are the jewel in the crown Jamon Iberico de Bellota Gran Reserva and the melt in the mouth Paleta Jamon Iberico de Bellota Gran Reserva shoulder of ham.
Whichever you select, you first need to mount it on a ham stand then clean and shape the ham with a ‘puntilla’ boning knife. Remove the hard bitter rind and yellow fat, then profile the ham by trimming away all the small pieces of yellow fat, leaving the ham as smooth as possible.
For personal use, when slicing Jamón Ibérico, you should use a flexible ham carving knife and ideally start to slice the ham through the highest narrow part, called ‘la babilla’ or front of the leg. First mark the hip bone and separate it from the meat then begin cutting thin slices which will get progressively wider. Once you reach the femur, alternate from one side to the other. Always slice in the same direction and slice thin, almost transparent strips and use your free hand or tongs to lift slices away from the leg.
If you are a restaurateur, hosting a party or have an insatiable appetite for Jamón Ibérico and intend to consume the whole ham within a few days, start at the widest part, the ‘la maza’ or the back of the leg. You should always retain at least 25% of the fat on the lean part of the ham. The more perfect your slices, the easier it will be to plate.
Finally, we reach “el jarrete” the shank. This is one of the juiciest parts set between the two bones.
Once sliced, like a bottle of red wine, you should rest your slices, slightly overlapping, on a warm plate at around 20°C. This helps the flavours intensify, becoming richer and more aromatic. Another hand tip is to save and place the fat layers back over the cut ham to cover the exposed meat and prolong its life, alternatively, use cling film.
Javier’s definitive guide to carving a leg of Jamón Ibérico ham can be found here.
Once you’ve carefully sliced all the fabulously tasty Jamón Ibérico meat from your ham, do not throw the bone away. The bone is precious and can be used to create delicious authentic Spanish soups and stews.
Ricardo is particularly insightful regarding the life of an Iberico ham and agrees with Javier about how to conserve a ham’s life by taking steps to protect and store it correctly. A whole Ibérico ham can be actually be kept at home for two months and will continue to be in perfect condition if you follow these steps.
First, remove the ham from its original packaging so it can breathe. This also prevents mold from forming, however, mold is actually part of the ham’s curing process and is just its natural way of expelling moisture. You can clean off any mold with a cloth and rub the ham with its own fat.
Next, choose an area of the house with a cool and dry place, away from sunlight, to hang your Ibérico ham – 10-15°C is ideal. Once the ham is cut, keep it in its holder in a dry place away from heat and consume as soon as possible. Ricardo recommends a maximum of one month.
Iberian ham and Serrano ham are both widely regarded products of the Spanish gastronomic tradition, but there are significant differences, especially in terms of flavour and quality. This is down to the breed of pig, diet and curing process.
Serrano ham is from white pigs, such as Duroc, Landrace, Pietrain or Large White which are reared on farms and fed a diet based mainly on feed and cereals to make them grow rapidly and yield lots of meat.
Iberian ham, however, is from 100% Iberian breed pigs crossed mainly with Duroc and a minimum of 50% Iberian bred and raised at least part of their life in meadows during the montanera season. Iberian are allowed the luxury of grazing freely in Spanish pastures on a diet rich in acorns, a natural diet that enriches the flavour and texture of the meat.
Curing is also where Iberian and Serrano hams differ vastly. Serrano hams are usually cured for a short 9 to 12-month period, whereas Iberian ham is aged for 18 to 48 months for a much fuller flavour.
If you are eating Iberian ham on its own, it’s rather like drinking a good wine. Serve it at room temperature, around 20°C which is when the fat begins to melt. Don’t mix it with anything, including tomato or olive oil, but feel free to enjoy it with bread in alternate bites.
Javier has many superb recipes that use Jamón Ibérico as a key ingredient too. These include; Bocadillo de Jamón, Huevos Rotos Con Jamón with chorizo or chistorra, Melon Con Jamon and Clams with Sherry and Iberico Ham. Click for the recipes.
Whilst supermarkets often stock standard Serrano ham, it’s unusual to find the finest authentic Jamón Ibérico on their shelves. The best Jamon Iberico ham is imported direct from Spain’s best producers, like Arturo Sánchez. Fortunately for you, Basco has sourced the finest Jamon Iberico ham sliced, boned, on the bone shoulder and legs plus full carving sets, and can deliver direct to your door. Click here to see our extensive range of Iberico ham products.
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