Relax... You don't need to be ashamed if you don't know what kinds of ham there are, and the differences between them. Most people are unsure about it, even the Spanish themselves!
For this reason, in this article we will briefly explain what types of ham exist, and their distinguishing characteristics.
There are 3 main categories, from least to most expensive:
Probably the name you have heard the most. That makes sense, as 80% of the hams produced in Spain are Serrano hams.
Serrano hams come from the Landrace or Large White breeds of pigs.
They are white pigs, just like the ones you can see in many European countries.
It is important to emphasize that pigs of the Iberian breed are never used to make Serrano ham.
Serrano hams generally have little fat and light pink meat. Due to its low fat content, the curing time is short. Its aroma and flavor are good without standing out as exceptional.
Within Serrano ham, there are different qualities, according to it's aging time:
- Bodega (bronze): cured for 9 to 12 months
- Reserva (silver): cured for 12 to 15 months
- Gran Reserva (gold): cured for more than 15 months
Feeding and raising:
The pigs are raised in an intensive farming system, which means that they have little freedom of movement. They are fed a diet of cereals, legumes and corn.
Duroc hamAlthough increasingly common, they are not found on the market as often as Serrano or Iberian hams. This is because the Duroc pig, which is a breed from the United States, is ideal for crossing with other breeds due to its characteristics: It has a high level of marbled fat and a very good yield of meat. The quality of the meat it somewhere in between Serrano ham and Iberian ham. Additionally, it is a breed that grows very quickly, which reduces the raising time. For these characteristics, it is frequently used for crossing with the Iberian pig. This brings the best of both breeds: high quality marbled meat, with a lower level of fat than pure Iberian pigs.
Iberian ham comes, as the name itself suggests, from Iberian pigs. This indigenous breed from the Iberian peninsula provides meat that is considered to be the highest quality.
Iberian pigs generally have a black-brown coloring. For this reason, they are also commonly known as Pata Negra which literally means "black foot". To avoid confusion for consumers, a law was passed in 2015 that regulated the use of this nomenclature.
Today, the only product that can bear the name "Pata Negra" is 100% Iberian Acorn Ham.
If you would like to know more about the term Pata Negra, we invite you to read our other post: What is Pata Negra?.
Iberian pigs have dark red meat, with plenty of intramuscular fat. Although it has a lower yield when compared to other breeds, the exquisite flavor and aroma of its meat are ample compensation.
To obtain a higher yield of meat, Iberian pigs are sometimes cross-bred with pigs of the Duroc breed. This is permitted only if the final product is at least 50% Iberian.
Just as with Serrano ham, there are different qualities with Iberian ham. In this case it is more complicated, and depends on:
- Purity of the breed
- The diet
- The system of raising
The purity of the breed
Iberian pigs produce meat with a unique texture and flavor. All the same, they tend to be less muscular and have more fat in comparison with the pigs used to manufacture Serrano hams (Landrace and Large White). For this reason, crossbreeding Iberian pigs with the Duroc breed is allowed in order to achieve a combination of quality and higher yield. To be allowed to label itself as "Iberian", it must be at least 50% Iberian.
- 50% Iberico: mother 100% Iberico, father 100% Duroc
- 75% Iberico: mother 100% Iberico, father 50% Duroc
- 100% Iberico: both mother and father are 100% Iberian
Feeding and raising
- Cebo: Raised on a farm. Fed on corn, cereals and legumes.
- Cebo de Campo: Raised outside, in semi-liberty. Fed on cereals and grasses.
- Bellota: Raised outside, in total liberty. Fed on grasses and acorns.
The curing time is established based on the size and weight of the pieces, between 14 and 36 months. In some cases it can even reach 48 months (4 years!).
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