Jamón Serrano and Jamón Ibérico

Continuing our FAQ section is Jamón, the king of cured Spanish meats. The entire point of Yummy Bazaar’s FAQ articles is to compile all of the most questions our readers are likely to be interested in and provide answers in other places, so you don’t have to spare extra time searching for them separately.

For this purpose, we’ll take the most oft-searched questions from Google around the topic and answer them as succinctly as possible but without skipping any vital facts. 

Are there any interesting questions you had about jamón that we’ve missed? Don’t be shy - let us know, and we’ll do our best to answer it as soon as possible.

What is Jamón?

Jamón is a Spanish word for ham, and as such, technically, it’s an umbrella term encompassing multiple types of ham and ham-like products in countries where Spanish is the first language. So don’t be surprised if you visit a butcher shop in Spain and find multiple products marked as jamón

But what we, English speakers (and the rest of the world), refer to as jamón is a very specific type of salt cured meat. It’s made from a pig’s hind leg and is always labeled either Jamón Serrano or Jamón Ibérico to distinguish: 

  1. From other hams and ham-like products, especially those made from different meats (ex., venison, beef, poultry, etc.); since Jamón Serrano and Jamón Ibérico are not only exclusively pork-based products, they can’t be made with any other cut of meat; 
  2. From each other, as they’re made from different pig breeds, and the pig breed has a rather significant impact on the texture, flavor, grade, and price of the final product. 

Classic salt cured Jamón Serrano and Jamón Ibérico are traditionally very thinly sliced and somewhat resemble Italian prosciutto in appearance.

What’s the difference between Jamón Ibérico and Jamón Serrano?

The most significant difference between the two is the breed of pig used in production. 

Jamón Serrano is Spain's most common salt cured meat product and accounts for over 90% of production. Certain Serrano varieties have been granted protected status, but those without designation can be made with any conventional pig breed (though gourmet-quality Serrano ham is usually made with Spanish white pig), as long as the hind leg is used and dried for a period of 7 to 18 months. 

Jamón Ibérico, on the other hand, can only be made with a hind leg of either Black Iberian pigs or a cross of Black Iberian with Duroc pig (with Iberian accounting for no less than 50%). It’s cured for no less than 12 months, but the process can last up to 4 years. Jamón Ibérico is a tightly regulated product. The percentage of the Ibérico breed, the breeding conditions of the pigs, and their diet are carefully controlled, as they all play a crucial part in determining the quality grade of the final product. Once packaged, Jamón Ibérico is given a “colored” label that indicates its quality.

You can read more about the types, grades, and labels of both Jamón Ibérico and Jamón Serrano in our guide that covers this information in-depth.

What's the Difference Between Jamón and Ham?

Simply put, jamón is technically ham; it’s the Spanish word for it. But what we refer to when we’re speaking about jamón is a particular product made from a specific cut of meat (pork’s hind leg), adhering to very specific manufacturing guidelines.

On the other hand, ham can be made from various types of meat and cured in multiple ways. As a result, multiple products, all called ham, can widely vary in texture, flavor, aroma, and quality.

But even if we were to narrow down and compare it with other European hams made from the same cut of meat as classic Spanish jamón, there would still be certain differences, most notably in the texture (drier and more uniform) and flavor (more intense), which is the result of jamón’s exceptionally long curing process.

What's the Difference Between Prosciutto and Jamón?

Italian prosciutto is made from the same cut of meat as Spanish jamón - a pig's hind leg - which is why they strongly resemble each other visually. However, appearances are where the similarities end. 

As mentioned above, jamón’s curing process ensures it has a drier and chewier texture than most other hams, including prosciutto. Jamón (especially Jamón Ibérico) also has a more complex, savory, and smoky flavor and a more intense meaty aroma. 

On the other hand, prosciutto has a sweeter, more delicate flavor and a less dry texture.  

What is the Best Spanish Jamón?

The best Spanish Jamón is, without doubt, Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Pata Negra. It’s a very specific product that can only be made from very carefully bred pigs on a very specific diet. 

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota is already considered the undisputed royalty among Spanish jamón varieties. Bellota means acorn in Spanish, and de Bellota means the pig, the hind leg of which was used, was raised “free-range” and was fed an acorn diet exclusively. 

This combination gives the flesh unique texture, flavor, and aromatic qualities. Jamón Ibérico de Bellota is always either red label or black label (the two highest color denominators). 

Pata Negra (Spanish for “black paw”) is reserved only for the Jamón Ibérico de Bellota variety that’s made from a 100% Iberian pig with ancestry that hasn’t been crossed with another breed. 

So Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Pata Negra is pure Iberian pig meat, raised free-range on an exclusive acorn diet, and cured for up to 48 months and more. 

Is Jamón Illegal in the US?

No, Jamón isn’t illegal in the US; you don’t need to worry about breaking the law when enjoying your Bocadillo de Jamón. However, that wasn’t always the case when it came to Jamón Ibérico!

The US banned Jamón Ibérico import in the 1980s because Spain’s slaughterhouses didn’t meet the Department of Agriculture requirements. The ban was overturned in 2005 when a small, family-run operation was granted a license to export their Jamón Ibérico to the United State’s soil.

The list of exporters has gradually increased over the last decade and a half, but there are still strict guidelines for exporting pork products to the US and Jamón, specifically. Only certain plants have been granted certifications, and the products must be accompanied by those certificates and seals to be allowed into the country. 

So if you’re planning on bringing jamón as a souvenir from your European trip - think twice, and better get some from a certified producer already in the country.

Is Jamón Ibérico Raw? Does Jamón Need to be Cooked? Can You Eat Jamón Raw?

While salt cured meats are technically “raw” as they’re not thermally treated at any stage of preparation, they’re entirely safe to consume without cooking. The process of salt curation dehydrates the meat and prevents bacterial growth. Thus, if the meat is cured correctly and aged at the correct temperature and humidity level, there’s no need to subject it to additional heating.

Jamón, specifically, is considered at its best while served “raw” and thinly sliced, with only a few other ingredients that highlight its flavor instead of “wasting” it on more complex dishes that could overwhelm its flavor. 

That said, humans are predisposed to adding their favorite ingredients to other dishes to make them more palatable, and jamón is no different. You can often find it used as a topping for pizzas, substituting for other meats in pasta dishes, tossed with omelets, and baked into frittatas. Croquetas de Jamón, Spanish-style ham croquettes, are a particular favorite.

Though that’s mostly Jamón Serrano, Jamón Ibérico is treated much more carefully, as it's a rare delicacy.

What Do You Eat With Spanish Jamón? What Cheese Goes With Jamón?

Jamón Serrano is relatively easy to pair with other ingredients. It has a robust flavor that’s not easily overwhelmed but can go well with either sweet or savory ingredients. Spanish Manchego cheese is considered a classic pairing, but other sheep milk cheeses (ex., Pecorino Romano) also go remarkably well. Among fruits, it’s common to pair them with moderately sweet ones like melons, berries, peaches, and apricots.

As for vegetables, it pairs better with blander ones like asparagus, zucchini, and potatoes and, as mentioned above, is a frequent addition to egg-based dishes. 

Jamón Ibérico is generally paired with more mild ingredients that accentuate its flavor and run no risk of overpowering it. White bread lightly salted buttery crackers, and soft creamy cheeses are all considered good options.

However, it’s not uncommon to pair it with more robust cheeses either, particularly Spain’s beloved Manchego. Among vegetables, tomatoes are considered a classic pairing, as they’re often added to the classic Bocadillo de Jamón along with olive oil.

What Do You Drink with Jamón?

A glass of good wine is considered the best drinking pairing for jamón, either Serrano or Ibérico. Most red wines generally go well with it, but sweet and dessert wines are generally thought to be a bit too much. Stick to semi-dry and semi-sweet red wines for the best flavor balance.

Pairing jamón with white wines is a bit trickier. Dry and crisp white wines are what most Chefs recommend when it comes to jamón, especially Jamón Ibérico. Fino Sherry often pops up as an ideal wine to pair with it. But any crisp white one will do. Just stick to dry or semi-dry varieties over the sweeter ones. 

Can Jamón Make You Sick?

Yes, if jamón goes bad, it can cause food poisoning ranging from relatively mild to quite severe. Luckily, it’s not hard to notice if your jamón has spoiled: it’ll taste bitter and rancid (though, depending on the stage it’s at, the flavor change can be pretty mild) and smell more pungent.

If you’re buying your jamón online, always carefully inspect the packaging for potential damage once it arrives, and in case you notice any - immediately contact the manufacturer to discern how worried you should be.  

How Long Does Jamón Last? Can You Keep Jamón in Fridge?

While vacuum-sealed, jamón can last up to 9 months. Once opened, it’ll last for around six weeks, as long as it’s stored properly. Ideally, you wouldn’t need to keep jamón in the fridge. As is typical for salt cured meat, it can keep well in any cool and dry place. But unless you’ve got a pantry with temperature control that you can keep at around 68°F at any time of year, keeping your jamón in the fridge would still be a safer option, especially once it’s not vacuum-sealed anymore. Keeping it in the refrigerator will also increase its shelf-life by a few weeks.

Can I Freeze Jamón? 

Theoretically, yes, but it’ll ruin both the texture and flavor, so we’d advise strongly against it. Besides, jamón already lasts long enough not to necessitate freezing even once it’s unsealed unless you’ve purchased an industrial amount. Skip the freezer with this one.

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