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Distinguishing Cured Hams Produced in Spain

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Miguel Huerta Dana

General Secretary of the National Meat Industry Association of Spain (ANICE)

Spain is a country of cured hams. Each year we produce 35 million pieces, 15% of which are exported, with 85% remaining for domestic consumption.

We can distinguish two main groups of cured hams produced in Spain:

The first includes hams produced from Iberian pigs, a race unique to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) characterized by its black hide and by its generally black hoof.

Iberian hams produced from these animals are classified by the type of feed the Iberian pigs have been given, and are divided into three categories:

  • Hams from acorn-fed Iberian pigs, which have been pasture-fattened exclusively on acorns and grass.
  • Recebo hams from Iberian pigs, which have also been pasture-raised but which have been fed with grain-based feed, in addition to acorns and grass.
  • Cebo Iberian hams, which come from Iberian pigs raised on pig farms and fed with grain-based feed.

Within this group of Iberian hams we should distinguish the four Designations of Origin which exist in Spain, which I will list in chronological order:

  • Guijuelo: a town in Salamanca with a long tradition of pork products.
  • Dehesa de Extremadura: which, as evidenced by its name, covers the production of Iberian pigs in the region of Extremadura.
  • Huelva: includes Iberian hams produced in the sierra of Huelva, with such well-known towns as Jabugo, Aracena, Cortegana and Cumbres Mayores.
  • Los Pedroches: covers Iberian ham production from Los Pedroches Valley in the province of Cordoba.

The other important group of cured hams produced in Spain comes from what are called White pigs, which is the race of pink pigs found throughout the rest of Europe which generally have a white hoof.

This is a more numerous group which includes Serrano ham, a quality product recognized by the Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) seal of the European Union.

This means that Serrano ham forms part of a select group of foods acknowledged by the European Union both for its quality and for the production process and strict quality controls it must undergo.

In order to produce a good Serrano ham, the highest quality raw materials must be used, selected for their freshness, weight and fat content which will allow them to successfully complete the production process. The Serrano ham is then transformed according to the guidelines established for the controlled production system. Finally, it is guaranteed that the end product, the Serrano ham, fulfills all quality requirements regarding reduced salt content, flavor and aroma, texture, time and degree of curing and so on.

Only those hams which fulfill these requirements and control processes to the full satisfaction of the producer can be designated "Serrano Hams".

The aim of the Fundación del Jamón Serrano Español is to select the highest quality Serrano hams to bear the "Fundación Jamón Serrano Español" counter label.

And to wrap up with this group of cured hams which are produced from the White pig, we should mention Designation of Origin Teruel hams and Trevélez hams, due to their particular quality and meticulous production process.

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