Spaniards recognize two different ham “cuts” of ham: from the back legs of the pig, what we call ham in English, is “jamón”; that from the front legs of the pig is called “paleta.”
Beyond that, it can be confusing. For starters, while most food writers will talk about ham from Iberian pigs, only 10% of the hams in Spain are actually made from those pigs: White pigs (breeds such as Large White, Landrace, Jersey and Duroc) actually supply 90% of the market.
And a ham might be referred to in by different terms. For instance, a ham can be called “Jamón de Bellota” (“bellota” meaning acorns) if it was made from a pig fattened principally on acorns or “Jamón de Pata Negra” if it was made from an Iberian Pig that happened to be fed acorns (“pata negra”, aka “black foot” being another name for the pig.) And, to boot, “Jamón Ibérico” means the same thing as “Jamón de Pata Negra.”
Some, such as Jamón de Trevélez, have three colours of labels indicating how long the ham has been aged. Others, namely Jamón de Guijuelo, use label colours to indicate what type of feed the pig received.
There are five officially regulated “denominacione de orígen” names: Jamón de Huelva (Iberian Ham), Jamón de Guijuelo, Jamón de Dehesa de Extremadura, Jamón de Teruel and Jamón de Los Pedroches.
Whatever the official name, the best grade in each name bracket is a ham that also has “bellota” (acorn) attached to its name. It’s easy to know, because if a pig was acorn-fed, they’ll advertise it — and charge more for it.
The Spanish refer to cooked ham as “Jamón york.”
Many Spanish hams are air-dried. By law in Spain, air-drying must take place at an elevation greater than 800 metres above sea level. Drying sheds are called “secaderos.”
In general, all Spanish air-dried hams are salted (with salt and saltpetre) and let stand for about 1 day per 2 ¼ pounds (per kg.) The salt is then washed off, and the “asentamiento” stage begins. The ham is hung to dry by ropes in a high humidity place for 30 to 45 days, at a temperature between 4 to 50 F (8 to 10 C) to allow the salt to evenly penetrate the ham, and more moisture to leave it. Then it is further dried 6 to 15 months at a low humidity between 34 to 41 F (1 to 5 C.) For the final 3 weeks, the temperature is increased to 86 F (30 C), and the humidity to 60%. Most are sold at this stage, when they will have lost about 40% of their weight. More expensive hams are aged another 7 to 13 months. This additional aging is called “añejado.” (Note: the process does vary somewhat based on particular types.)
|Name||English meaning||Practical meaning||Date officialized|
|Jamón Curado||Cured ham||Just a marketing term; no legal meaning. Will be from white pigs fed commercial feed (because if it were otherwise, the producers would be the first to say so.)|
|Jamón de Guijuelo||Ham from Guijuelo||Ham from the south-eastern part of Salamanca province on the Portuguese border, just north of where Jamón de Dehesa de Extremadura is produced. Made from Iberian Pigs.||Name received its legal definition in 1986.|
|Jamón de Huelva||Ham from Huelva||Iberico Ham. Synonyms: Jamón de Jabugo; Jámon Iberico||Received European “Protected Designation of Origin” (PDO) in 1995.|
|Jamón de la Dehesa de Extremadura||Ham from the Extremadura plains||The area borders on Portugal, just south of where Guijuelo hams are produced. Made from Iberian Pigs.|
|Jamón de Los Pedroches||Ham from Los Pedroches||Made from Iberian pigs in the Valle de los Pedroches, Córdoba.||Name received its legal definition in 1998.|
|Jamón de Pata Negra||“Black hoof” ham||Equals Jamón Ibérico (Iberian Ham.) Will be from Iberian pigs fed commercial feed, unless otherwise specified (if it was a better feed, they’ll advertise it)||As of 15 April 2006, its official use was prohibited because there was too much confusion over terms.|
|Jamón de Teruel||Ham from Teruel||From the province of Teruel, Spain. Made from white pigs.||Name received its legal definition in 1984.|
|Jamón de Trevélez||Ham from Trevélez||From a village, reputedly the highest in Spain, on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada.||Name received its legal definition in 1992. Received European PGI status in 2005.|
|Jamón Extra||“Extra” (whatever) ham||Just a marketing term; no legal meaning. Will be from white pigs fed commercial feed. (because if it were otherwise, the producers would be the first to say so.)|
|Jamón Iberico de Bellota||Iberian Acorn Ham||Iberian pigs fed commercial feed until they reach 200 pounds (90 kg, at the age of 14 to 15 months), then nothing but pasture grass and acorns until they reach their slaughter weight of 350 to 420 pounds (160 to 190 kg.) Considered the best.|
|Jamón Ibérico de cebo||“Iberian fodder-fed ham”||Iberian pigs fed only commercial feed. No pasture grazing. Considered the third best.|
|Jamón Iberico de Montanera||“Iberian Oak Forest Ham.” Synonym for “Jamón Iberico de Bellota.” See above.|
|Jamón Iberico de Recebo||Iberian “Gravel” Pork. “Gravel” implying time in a barnyard.||Iberian pigs fed commercial feed until they reach 200 pounds (90 kg), then a mixture of commercial feed (no more than ⅓ commercial feed), pasture grass and acorns until they reach their slaughter weight of 350 to 420 pounds (160 to 190 kg.) Considered the second best.|
|Jamón Ibérico de pienso||Synonym for “Jamón Ibérico de cebo.” See above.|
|Jamón Reserva||Reserved ham||Just a marketing term; no legal meaning. Will be from white pigs fed commercial feed (because if it were otherwise, the producers would be the first to say so.)|
|Jamón Serrano||Mountain ham||Just a marketing term; no legal meaning. Will be from white pigs fed commercial feed (because if it were otherwise, the producers would be the first to say so.)|
Spanish Hams are almost always served raw (i.e. as they come), and very thinly sliced.
Fatty trimmings can be used as an ingredient in dishes.