Jamón is the Spanish word for ham but usually refers to dry-cured ham produced within the Iberian peninsula (a mountainous region that cuts across Spain and into Portugal). Jamón shares similarities with other continental dry-cured meats such as Italian prosciutto or Portuguese presunto but it is typically cured for longer (up to 36 months). Jamon is rightly considered a gourmet delicacy and a flagship of Spanish cuisine.
TRADITIONAL DRY CURING PROCESS
At JAMON.CO.UK, we work with traditional producers who follow natural production processes, do not use artificial drying methods and never use chemical additives or preservatives.
The natural ham curing process itself is very simple (you only need meat, salt, air and of course time) but requires considerable skill and patience. Throughout the process, it is the hundreds of small variables that make the final flavour distinct and it is the Maestro Jamonero who oversees this to ensure the best quality ham is produced. The complexity of this task is evidenced by the fact that the production takes up to three years.
The preparation process has remained the same for centuries. Very simply, it starts with dry curing the ham in a controlled environment (usually a cellar) where the temperature is low and the relative humidity is high. As the ham progresses through maturity, the ambient temperature increases and the humidity decreases. This transformation is divided into four key stages.
SALTING AND WASHING
Salting is one of the oldest ways to naturally preserve meat without the use of chemical additives. Freshly cut and cleaned hams are buried between layers of salt, usually for one or two weeks depending on weight. After this time, the hams are rinsed in warm water to remove excess salt crystals from the surface.
STAGES OF REST
Once the hams have been cleaned, they are placed in cold storage for approximately 90 days. During this period storage conditions are optimised to ensure the salt penetrates deeper into the meat, removing unnecessary moisture evenly and preserving the meat. As the ham naturally dries, the consistency of the meat becomes thicker.
DRYING AND MATURING
During this stage, the hams are dried in the traditional way by exposing them to the mountain air of their natural surroundings. The hams rest for months in this way (depending on the type) to acquire the required maturity, texture, taste and aroma.
THE BODEGA STAGE
The final stage of production is where hams are hung in traditional cellars (Bodegas) for two or more years. During this phase, the ham continues to mature and obtains its characteristic flavour. At the end of this period, the hams would have lost between 30% and 40% of their initial weight.