16 May 2011

Spanish Ham Samplers

Spanish Ham 'Samplers'
If anyone has ever told you that Iberico ham is the best in the world then they are probably right. There are some major differences between normal Serrano ham and Iberico. Firstly the Iberico ham comes from a completely different pig, a black footed (but not always) hog - hence the term 'pata negra', these hogs are distant relatives to the wild boar and for top of the range hams such as 'bellota' are fattened on acorns during the latter stages of their life, roaming around rich meadows feasting on oak laden pastures.

Serrano ham on the other hand is still a very good ham in own right, it comes from what you might refer to as a 'normal' pig such as the Landrace or Large White breeds. Serrano ham accounts for around 93% of ham production in Spain. So what is the difference? Apart from the price the Iberico ham is marbled with fat as the Iberian pig has an uncanny knack of absorbing its diet differently to that of other pigs. Texture is lighter, more dissolving than chewy and the flavour, well this depends on the grade...

For simplicities sake we will say that Iberian ham comes in three main varieties, these are:


There are more but lets stick to basics, the grade is determined by the Iberian pigs diet. Cebo hams are from pigs fed on compound feed (no acorns involved) Recebo hams are from a mixed diet (acorns and compound feed) and Bellota hams are from pigs fed on acorns and which are also allowed to roam free eating grasses from the meadows - a whole natural affair if you like.

Flavours differ, mainly in strength and intensity. A lower grade Cebo ham will not boast that nutty flavour but remains a very good Iberian ham indeed. Recebo hams are stronger on the palate and have a distinct nuttiness about them, also a lighter texture. Bellota, cream of crop, very nutty with beautiful flavour, tones and aroma. price is also dictated by grade so just because a ham is labelled 'Iberico' or 'Pata Negra' does not mean it is of the highest quality and may not be acorn fed at all - the price will indicate the grade.

So what is the solution to taste testing the three Iberico ham grades? Well you could try a sampler pack, 3 x 100g packs of Cebo/Recebo/Bellota ham. The Iberico sampler allows you to taste test the main grades without breaking the bank and buying a full Iberian ham. The perfect solution to discovering why people are going nutty about Spanish ham.

Useful links:

Iberico hams
Factors Effecting Flavour

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