The Pride of Spain
Chances are if you’ve ever found yourself in one of Spain’s tapas bars, watching night turn to morning, you’ve enjoyed a plate or two of Jamón Serrano, the country’s prized national delicacy. Like Italian prosciutto, Jamón Serrano is made from the hind legs of Spanish pigs (though the front legs are also used to make a cured ham of lesser quality) and is dry-cured with salt and then aged anywhere from one to three years. There are many different grades of Spanish Jamón, and the quality designation is dependent on the type of pig used, the diet of the pig, and the cure.
The most common type of Jamón is simply called Jamón Serrano, which is made from compound-fed white pigs. The finest Spanish hams, however, are made from black-hoofed Iberican pigs, relatives of the wild boar. Those in the know are clamoring for a taste of these exceptional hams, which account for 5% of the total annual Jamón production. These hams are known as Jamón Iberico de Bellota, because the pigs fatten up on a diet of acorns (bellotas) while roaming in a country-club like oak forest. The acorns impart a nutty taste to the finished meat. These specialty hams are also known as Pata Negra (black hoof) and Jabugo, the name of one town where the ham is produced.