13 January 2010

Spanish ham - Fact or Fiction?

A few facts on Spanish ham... Buying Spanish ham can be quite a complicated business especially for the customer. Throughout 2009 we kept tabs on some of the more factual and unusual aspects being reported about Spanish hams.

1. Has the term "pata negra" been banned? - Fact. At least by the Spanish authorities Spanish retailers and producers are no longer permitted to sell iberian hams under the "pata negra" name. The name itself literally means "black foot" reputable producers carrying the Denominacion de Origen stamp will always describe their Iberian hams "Bellota, Recebo or Cebo" ~ it may be worth noting that the terms Reserva and Grand Reserva regarding Iberian hams are no longer permitted either so watch out for curing times or the secaderos own coloured labelling system instead.

2. Iberico pigs feed on acorns to make them thirsty, they then run around trying to find water which in turn produces the texture of the meat - Fiction, absolute nonsense but reported in an online and hard copy Spanish local newspaper, the author of the article was not Spanish.

3. The price of "Cebo" iberico hams halved during the latter period of 2009 because too many have been produced - Fiction, prices have not decreased although there are more non bellota hams being produced which may drive prices down marginally in the future.

4. The price of "Bellota" iberico hams may rise in future due to a disease killing Spanish oak trees - Fact. It is true that the humble acorn is dwindling in the dehesas (meadows) steps are being taken to eradicate the problem and the situation has been recognised as potentially serious for future bellota ham production.

5. USDA regulations stipulated in 2009 that the "hoof" from iberico ham imports had to be removed - Fact.

6. Serrano ham is the same as Iberico ham - Fiction. Iberico ham and serrano ham are worlds apart, both Spanish gourmet in every sense of the word but Iberian ham should be regarded as a different product.

7. A serrano ham cut in a "V" has a better flavour and texture - Fiction. Some hams are cut in a "v" which means that the skin (or rind) from the outer side of the leg has been removed, the name v-cut is so as the cutting creates a v like shape on one side of the ham. Experts say that this cutting process is purely down to the secaderos (curing house) manufacturing process and has no beneficial gain to any aspect of the end product.

8. Serrano hams can be smoked - Fiction. The only ingredients in an authentic Spanish serrano ham should be ham - salt - time. Serrano hams are never smoked, Italian parma ham which again is a different product can be smoked.

9. There are more serrano hams produced than iberico hams - Fact. Iberico hams only account for around 7% of ham production in Spain.

10. Cinco Jotas 5J ham is the worlds best - Fiction, this always comes down to personal taste. There are a handful of regions in Spain which carry the "D.O" stamp, each bellota ham from these regions are exceptional. It is fair to say however that 5J hams from Sanchez Romero have gained an enviable reputation and produce some of the finest artisan hams and embutidos in the world. There are though, other equally good alternatives...

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