"Jamon origin" - If only it were a simple matter to define!
Broadly speaking though the west of Spain can be considered to be the principal producing regions of Spanish Ham. However, as with all fine foods and wines, the boundary between one farm and the next can mean a difference of hundreds at the time of purchase!
Spanish Ham is one of the principal ingredients of Spanish gastronomy and rightly so with its unique taste and texture! Commonly known as Jamon and with the "J" sounding like a "H" it is pronounced "Hamon" in English.
There is a whole culture and intricate eticate surrounding the production, curation and even the eating of Spanish Ham but you needn´t worry as we explain all! By the end of the page you´ll be able to impress your friends with your new knowledge of Jamon origin, culture and science!
Spanish Ham comes from the four legs of the pig however it is only the hind legs that are truly "Jamones" the fore legs being slightly smaller and known as "Paletillas". Each has a slightly different taste due to the differing curing times and the amount of meat that is cured. More on this process later on.
The origin of Spanish Ham is dictated by "comarcas" which are regions as in the wine industry. These comarcas are subject to strict quality controls and each has a slightly different variation to the next be it in the animals diet, exercise or variations in the curing of the leg.
Due to the Spanish climate in the north having high humidity the production of Jamon and the major comarcas are located in the middle and south of the country. Principally in the regions of Castilla y Leon, Castilla la Mancha and Andalucia.
Jamon determining factors:
There are 4 principal factors that vary with each Spanish Ham.
- Race of the Pig
- Diet of the pig
- Curing time
- and the Curing method
As any four can be mixed and matched there are a number of variations possible and it comes down to a matter of personal taste or "Gusto" as the Spanish would say. Price also becomes a factor with certain combinations comanding over 200€ a kilo (2,2 lbs)!!!
Race of the pig:
As with all animals there are certain genetic and physical differences depending on the race. Some pigs have less fat whilst others have different muscle = bone relationships. In Spain the traditional race for producing Spanish ham is considered the "Iberico" this is an animal of the Iberian peninsula black in colour and with black trotters.
Known in Spain as "Pata negra" ie Black foot a true Iberico has a distinct flavor due to its short legs (muscle concentration at the top of the leg) and fat = meat = bone balance. To make matters a little more confusing there are also races of pigs that have black trotters that are not necessarily Ibericos or are of mixed race.
The more common white trotter Jamones are just as tasty as the black trotter ones just a slightly different taste.
Diet of the Pig:
Its only natural that the Ham reflects what the pig has eaten and what exercise it has undertaken. The traditional Spanish Ham comes from a pig fed on "bellotas" (acorns)
in a small pasture underneath the oak trees. Obviously to meet the demand of the general populace the variety of feedstuffs and exercise routines have been changed beyond recognition. However if the Jamon comes marked "bellota"
you can be assured that the animal had a diet of acorns and a regulated amount of space set aside for exercise. This quality mark is subject to regular inspecions and even the use of satelite imagery
to ensure the strictest controls.
Curing time and method:
Curing of the leg is done in two parts. The first month with the leg protected from the air by being covered in a substance. The normal being
salt but also charcoal can be used. The rest of the 18-24 mths for Jamones or 12-18 mths for Paletillas
the leg is in the open air. Variations to either of these timeframes can produce different textures and tastes.
Discovered the true Jamon origin? See how Spanish ham is prepared....