When it comes to cured meats, two of the most popular varieties that come to mind are prosciutto and serrano ham. To some serrano ham is even considered the Spanish counterpart of the Italian prosciutto. Nonetheless, while they share similarities, they still have their differences, making each one of them unique. In this article, we will delve into the world of serrano ham, its production at Espuña, the curing process, how it differentiates from prosciutto, and how to enjoy it best.
Espuña: A Tradition of Authentic Spanish Cured Meats
Espuña has been crafting traditional cured meats since 1947. Esteve Espuña founded the company starting off as a humble sausage producer in La Vall de Bianya, Spain, and has since seen worldwide expansion due to its commitment to maintaining artisan craftsmanship and using authentic Spanish recipes. Espuña represents some of Spain’s finest authentically produced cured meats available in the market, including serrano ham.
What is Serrano Ham?
The name “Serrano” originates from the Spanish word “sierra”, which means mountain range. It honors the tradition of curing ham in high-altitude regions such as the Purenees or the Cantabrian Mountains. In these elevated landscapes, the cold and dry climate aids in the maturation process, giving the ham (previously known as “pernil” until the 14th century) its distinctive flavor.
Serrano ham is the most characteristic product in Spanish Cuisine. Unlike Prosciutto di Parma, which can only be produced in specific regions of Italy, Serrano Ham is not limited to a geographic area. They are typically saltier, drier and somewhat more pungent than Italian Prosciutto – questionable imports could even be described as lightly rancid in taste. Espuña’s Serrano Ham, in comparison, is sweet and aromatic – stronger in flavor than a Prosciutto, but nowhere near the extreme aroma of some Spanish hams.
The Curing Process
To create their serrano ham, Espuña starts off by choosing the best meats, sourcing fresh ham from local farms. Then, they undergo a slow curing process, where the hams are rubbed with curing salts and left to cure for around 20 hours to 2 days per kilo of ham. Next, the hams are hung in rooms that mimic the change of seasons, from the cold, moist winter air to the dry heat of summer. After 9-15 months of air curing, the whole serrano ham pieces are ready for consumption! They are either sold as is, bone-in, or deboned and sealed in cryovac.
Recognizing Serrano Ham
One way of identifying serrano ham is by looking for the label of the Consorcio del Jamón Serrano Español. The consortium’s seal, in the shape of an “S”, guarantees that the serrano ham has met the rigorous standards set by the consortium. The standards include: Being produced in Spain, being air dry cured for an average of 12 months, having a minimum fat cover of 1 cm, and a 34% minimum decrease from its fresh weight. The consortium also conducts regular quality audits at all production plants to ensure that the ham producers maintain high standards of quality.
Serrano Ham vs Prosciutto
Serrano ham and prosciutto share some similarities in their production process and flavor profiles. But does that mean they’re interchangeable? Both are cut from cured pork legs, have a rich flavor, and when made well, possess a velvety texture with sweet fat that melts on the tongue. However, there are key differences between the two:
- Pig Diet: Pigs used for prosciutto are usually fed corn feed supplemented with fruit and whey, while serrano ham pigs have a diet rich in acorns.
- Color: Due to the different diets, there is also a difference in color. Prosciutto tends to be a paler shade of pink, while serrano ham is a deeper, reddish color.
- Aging Process: Both meats are salt-cured but prosciutto is aged in a more humid environment, keeping the meat supple and the fat sweet. On the other hand, serrano ham undergoes a drier aging process, intensifying the texture and saltiness of the meat.
- Texture: Due to a drier aging process, serrano ham tends to be firmer than prosciutto. While both hams are sliced very thinly, prosciutto tends to be paper-thin, while serrano can be cut into small dice.
- Taste: The aging process also affects the saltiness in the meats. Serrano ham tends to be saltier than prosciutto.
How To Use Serrano Ham
According to the Consorcio del Jamón Serrano Español, it is best to eat serrano ham on its own, in slices. But why stop there? We have some preferred ways to enjoy this delicious dry-cured meat. Due to its firm texture, you can cut it into small dice and toss it into a salad. If you’d rather slice it, don’t hesitate to make it the star of your sandwich. For a more traditional approach, try the Catalan dish called Pa amb tomàquet, or Pan Tumaca in Spain, where you top toasted bread with juicy tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and of course, some delicious serrano ham, creating an authentic Spanish breakfast experience.
Another great way to enjoy serrano ham is by placing it on a charcuterie board. Pair it with some Manchego cheese, fresh fruits, and Spanish wine to enhance the overall taste and experience. So, don’t limit yourself to just eating it plain – there are plenty of enjoyable ways to relish the goodness of serrano ham!
Whether enjoyed on its own or used as an ingredient, serrano ham, especially Espuña’s serrano ham, offers a unique taste experience that is distinct from prosciutto. It pleasantly adds a touch of Spanish tradition and flavor to any dish. With more Americans than ever visiting Spain for their summer vacations (2.8 million visited in 2022!), the awareness of Spanish ingredients can only increase. No deli counter is now complete without Serrano, so don’t miss out!