The Most Delicious, Most Expensive Hams of Spain
For Spanish people, there is something more important than football, more spiritual than religion, and goes beyond a mild infatuation. Most people like a bite of ham now and then, but mention ham to those in Spain and they become almost reverent.
There are basically two different types of fine cured Spanish hams, jamón serrano or “mountain ham,” and jamón ibérico or “Iberian ham.”
When you order jamón ibérico you’re not simply ordering a run-of-the-mill piece of cured pork – you’re ordering the crème de la crème of ham. The best jamón ibérico is graded as jamón ibérico de bellota, with bellota referring to the acorn-rich diets of free-range Iberian pigs wandering hilly, pastoral fields of oak and cork trees (depending on where they are) known as dehesas. The acorn-rich diet really defines the quality of this top-grade ham which has a sweet, nutty and earthy bouquet. The oleic acid in the acorns makes jamón ibérico soft, creamy, a little nutty and absolutely divine. The curing process lasts from 14 to 36 months. One leg of this exclusive ham, weighing between 13-17 pounds, can cost up to USD$4,500.
There are nearly 2,000 producers of serrano ham in Spain. Eighteen of them formed the Consorcio de Jamón Serrano Español in 1990. The name jamón serrano is now controlled by the European Union and it protects the processing of the product. Look for the label that has an "S" in the shape of a ham and says Serrano Español. This mountain or serrano ham is made from several different breeds of white pigs, such as Duroc, Landrace, or Large White. It has a rich, buttery, slightly spicy taste with sweet notes and an intense aroma. It has a soft texture akin to prosciutto. Serrano jamon is more intense in flavor and scent than jamón ibérico. The meat is cured from seven to 16 months. A 16-pound leg of bone-in jamón serrano ham retails for about USD$400.
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