Jamón Serrano is ‘cured’ or ‘mountain-cured’ ham and Andalucia produces some of the very finest. The Iberico, a small brown pig native to the region and thriving on an exclusive diet of acorns from scrub oaks and cork trees, gives its name to the most superb – and most expensive – of the cured hams.
It is also sometimes known as ‘Pata Negra’ because the hams have a black trotter. Iberico ham is always served raw, but other hams are used locally in various popular dishes.
The most famous places in Andalucia for producing ‘jamón serano’ are Jaburgo in the Sierra de Arecena in Huelva province, the villages of Cumbres Mayores and Cortegana and Trevélez in the Alpujarras.
The ham from Trevélez is made from white pig and has been popular since the 18th century. The clean, dry mountain air makes it ideal for the curing process. Other cured hams are from Capileira, Lanjaron and Orgiva.
Origins and Production
Serrano ham has its roots deeply embedded in Spanish culture, with a history dating back centuries. The name ‘serrano’ refers to the mountainous regions where the ham is traditionally produced and cured. The two main types of Spanish ham are jamón serrano and the more luxurious jamón ibérico, both of which showcase the country’s commitment to preserving age-old culinary traditions.
The production process is a meticulous art form. Serrano ham is typically made from the hind legs of white pigs, though crossbreeds with other varieties are not uncommon. The ham undergoes a lengthy curing process, involving salting, resting, and air-drying in specially designed cellars. This careful maturation process, often lasting between 12 to 18 months, imparts the distinct flavour and texture that serrano ham is renowned for.
One of the key attributes of serrano ham is its complex and nuanced flavour profile. The meat boasts a perfect balance of saltiness and sweetness, with a rich umami undertone. The marbling of fat within the meat contributes to its melt-in-your-mouth texture, creating a sublime culinary experience. The ham’s aroma is equally captivating, offering a fragrant and savory bouquet that enhances the overall enjoyment.
Serving and Pairing
Serrano ham is often served in thin slices, allowing its delicate flavors to shine. It is a staple in Spanish tapas, frequently enjoyed with crusty bread or paired with other complementary flavors like olives, cheeses, and seasonal fruits. Additionally, the ham can be incorporated into a variety of dishes, adding depth and sophistication to salads, pastas, and more.
Pairing serrano ham with the right wine is an art in itself. A dry Spanish red wine, such as Tempranillo or Rioja, complements the ham’s savory notes beautifully. Alternatively, a glass of fino or manzanilla sherry provides a perfect match, highlighting the saltiness of the ham.
A popular breakfast item, and one of my personal favourites, is a catalana, either a bocadillo (small baguette) or a pitufo (small, crusty bun only found in the Málaga area) which is lightly toasted and then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, covered in grated tomato, topped with serrano ham and sprinkled with salt to round things off.