The Jamon Bible: The guide to different types of Spanish Hams 

31 August 2015 1 Comments Category: Living in Spain


By now, you might feel overwhelmed by all the types and qualities of hams you can enjoy while living in Spain. But unless you know your jamón, you probably don´t know where to start. Not only does the taste and quality depend on the breed of the pig, it also depends on what it is fed and how & where it is raised and processed. That´s why we, at Typical Non Spanish, want to give you the run down on the key factors that will help you determine which one to ask for next time you hit the bar or restaurant or purchase jamón to savor at home with friends and family.

Jamón in Spain is so coveted that there is such a thing as a Denominación de Orígen seal, which ensures they meet the standards and last year. The Spanish government approved a new labeling system that will make it easier for you to distinguish each grade.

Now, let´s begin with the Jamón Bible.

There are four different grades, the best being Jamón Ibérico de Bellota or pata negra (black hoof pigs), which only account for 5% of total ham production. Note that ibérico hams all come from the provinces and towns of Huelva, Teruel and Guijuelo and Iberian pigs can eat up to ten kilos of acorns a day.

Jamón 100% Ibérico or Bellota 100%.

These hams are made from ibérico pigs, which spend their lives roaming in the dehesa and are raised on grass, herbs, grains and their mother´s milk. They also feast on the nutty sweet holm and cork tree acorns for at least 3 to 4 months, which gives them it´s final distinct flavor. Once they are slaughtered (matanza), the curing process begins. At this point, the hams are salted and left to dry in secaderos (sheds) for at least 36 to 48 months. The exclusive black label is applied to these only.

Jamón de Bellota Ibérico.

These hams come from a cross breed of Jamón Ibérico and Duroc, which roam freely in the dehesa (pasture) and are fattened with grass, aromatic herb and acorns. This type of ham carries the red label.

Cebo de Campo Ibérico. 

This type of ham also comes from Ibérico pigs but these are also crossbred with Duroc pigs and, unlike the Ibérico de Bellota pigs, they enjoy a shorter free-range period and are ultimately fattened with grains. The label on these cured hams is green.

Jamón de Cebo Ibérico.

These Iberian pigs, also half bred with Duroc pigs, are also considered great tasting but are grain fed only. Look for the white label, if you´d like to try the difference.

So, what is Jamón Serrano?

These hams come from the landrace breed of white pigs, which were raised on farms, where they feed on grains alone and are cured for less time than the above and in high altitudes and dry climates. There are also two different types of Jamón Serrano: the gold and the silver.

Iberian Pigs


Other delicacies

Sacrificing the pig is a tradition that still remains strong and is a family affair. This is the time of year when everyone gathers to preserve the meat (embutidos) for the entire year. Delicacies such as salchichón (sausage)chorizo, morcilla and sobrasada are made using ancient recipes that date back thousands of years. Below, you will find a brief description of each. Remember, that these meats and cold cuts also depend on the quality of the pig, which are also labeled.

Salchichón: Sausage

Sobrasada: Cured sausage made from ground pork, paprika and other spices. Typical of the Balearic Islands.

Morcilla: These black sausages are filled with cooked or dried pork blood and sometimes mixed with filler such as rice.

Chorizo: This is a cured and smoked sausage, which can be eaten or added as an extra ingredient to dishes. The reason why it is red is because of the dried smoked red peppers used in the curing process.

Butifarra: A type of sausage made with raw pork and spices. It is prepared on the grill or the BBQ and is typical of Cataluña.

If you´re invited to a matanza, don’t think twice. It´s a feast and a wonderful private occasion to participate and witness how the curing process begins.

Would you like to know what other Spanish foods to try this summer? Read all about it here.

Photo Credits: Justus Hayes


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