Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jamón, Jamón

A while ago someone asked me the difference between Jamón Ibérico and Jamón Serrano and I guess the most obvious answer is the price with the former being substantially more expensive than the latter. Why? Well, I have to admit I'm far from a ham connoisseur or expert so I sought the advice of someone whose knowledge on the subject is much greater than mine - my Sevillana wife. Her response was "It's like the difference between Don Simon and Rioja. Now be quiet, you're making me hungry." Helpful, right? Anyway, in search for the differences and to quell her appetite we went to the local market and bought a few grams of each to do a jamón taste test.

The first difference is the appearance. Jamón Ibérico tends to be glossier and less meaty looking with more streaks of the white fat or as my missus says, "the good cholesterol," while Jamón Serrano is a darker red and tougher looking. And in this case, appearances aren't deceiving when it comes to taste with Jamón Ibérico requiring much less jaw pressure to chew. Both are salty, but whereas eating Jamón Serrano has you reaching for any liquid, the flavor of Ibérico evokes the desire for a cold beer or a glass of a good wine, which serves as a perfect compliment, rather than just a way to quench your thirst.

There's also a difference in how you eat them with serrano often used at the meat for a bocadillo while if you eat Ibérico with bread in front of a Spaniard be prepared for a look similar to the expression of a Scot if you add coke to a twelve year old whiskey. This isn't to say you can't but it's advisable to do it when alone or with fellow guiris unless your ready for the question, "Do you put catchup on Paella too?" As for cooking either, that's a definite no-no, especially with Jamón Ibérico. I actually did it once and I have to say it was the best bacon ever; it's also the reason my mother-in-law hides it every time I come to visit.

So if both are cured hams why such a difference in taste, texture and appearance? The acorn or la bellota which is the primary feed for the pigs whose legs go on to be cut into thin slices that are then served on a plate; the food for the ones whose meat is used in sandwiches are given a mix of cereals. It's amazing how a nut can have such an effect, isn't it?

Of course, like with many things in Spain, the superiority of Jamóm Ibérico isn't clear cut. I know a few people who say it's a waste of money. Also, if you decide to eat at a restaurant along Las Ramblas, stick with the serrano, because if you order the Ibérico, that's what you'll be getting anyway but with a dash of oil for the glossy look at five times the price.


  1. I love jamón :) I think serrano comes from white pigs and ibérico from a different breed of pig, so, if you can see the leg and it's black, it should be ibérico. Then, ibérico can be de cebo, de recebo and de bellota. Delicious! If your wife is from Sevilla, you could go to Huelva and buy some of the best jamón in Spain :) Enjoy!

  2. Thanks Marta! I did not know that about the pigs.I've learned something new. Yes, Huelva has great ham and strawberries!

  3. We got a catalog from Corte Ingles for Christmas about 5J (only 500 euros per leg, what a deal!). It read almost like jamon-porn.