It would take twelve hundred hams standing end to end to reach the top of the Andalucian mountains from sea level.
The village of Orce lies three thousand feet above sea level, this high up in the mountains provides the ideal conditions for curing Serrano hams, indeed the word “Serrano” in Serrano ham means “mountain”, the key however is humidity or rather lack of it.
All hams in Spain are cured high above sea level, summers are hot and dry and winters remain dry too – relative low humidity creates the perfect conditions for salting and curing Serrano and Iberico hams. One main benefit is that the process is completely natural, no machinery such as dehumidifiers are introduced. The term “air dried hams” is often used and although not strictly correct does explain the simplicity of the process.
Spain (particularly the region of Andalucia) is world famous for its cured hams, with many varieties, bodega / reserva/ curado / gran reserva etc available. One common denominator is the curing process – it is forbidden to add anything other apart from salt to produce a “Serrano ham” the natural conditions do the rest.
The carniceria of “Sebastian” cures its own ham locally in the village of Orce, one of many small producers who have the process down to a fine art. Curing times vary but the ingredients always remain the same, the most common hogs used to produce Serrano ham come from the “Landrace” breed of pig. Rearing these pigs on large open farms is common practice in Spain such is the demand for the end product, two of the finest are the Serrano ham and the relatively unknown and highly underrated “Lomo” or cured pure loin of pork.
Feeding regimes do vary throughout producers, Iberian hams for example come from acorn fed pigs (also related to the wild boar) The Landrace is fed on compound feed, the flavour is very very different between the two. The humble Serrano ham does come in various guises though, this depends on the feed, curing time and also the length of time the ham is salted for. Salting is usually one day per kilo of weight but again this can vary depending on the size of the legs and strength of flavour required.
The “mountain ham” one of Spain’s finest embutidos, hugely popular in its native country, fifty million Spaniards can’t be wrong…