What is the Deference between Iberico & Serrano Ham?
Quite often when people ask us for Serrano Ham, what they really mean is Iberico Ham, and visa versa. There is a lot of confusion between the two Spanish hams. They may seem very similar however, they both have very individual characteristics; from the breeding to the diet and curing process, these two Jamon's are worlds apart.
While yes, they are both pigs and they are cured and eaten the same way, usually they cannot be compared in terms of flavours and aromas. Some say that it is like comparing a Champagne with the cheapest Prosecco or supermarket single packed cheese with handmade Camembert, but we have taken care in selecting the finest Serrano hams which can be compared to the complexity and majesty of an Iberian Ham! Serrano Ham is very popular here in the UK, and it is one of the only Spanish dry-cured meat that is easily accessible in high street shops: you often find Jamon Serrano in the supermarket at Christmas. So, we would like to explore with you the differences between Iberico & Serrano Hams and allow you to make an informed decision as to which you would prefer!
How They Appear
Before reading on, look at the pictures and guess which you think looks like a finer slice of ham? Left or right? Which did you guess? Well, funnily enough, most people choose left which is the serrano ham. This is purely due to the fat content and the plush red colour of the meat. It gives us the idea that it is leaner and healthier - you would be wrong. The quality of the meat is all based on fat content. Fat gives the meat its flavours, textures and aromas. The Serrano in the picture below is one the finest Serrano hams in the world so there is a fair bit of marbled fat, but compared to the sweaty and soft Iberico ham it looks lean and red.
Beautiful red and rich Jamon Serrano. Notice the marbling? This is unique to only superior hams. This can be yours from £6.90 per 100g.
A Plate of Iberico Ham - sweaty and marbled. You can almost taste the sweet nuttiness! This could be yours from £10.50.
The European White Pigs
The breed of pig that Jamon is made from is a huge part of what makes Jamon Serrano different to Jamon Iberico. The pig that populates most of Europe are the Duroc, Pietrain and Landrance which are often referred to as 'European White Pigs'. You may often hear the term 'White Hoof Ham' which refers to the varieties of Serrano Ham. These white pigs appear as fattier due to the larger intramuscular fat content and therefore create a much larger yield compared to Black Iberian Breeds- this is the same pig we enjoy as a delicious sweet, salty and crispy bacon roll! This is what makes the white breed popular among farmers because the larger yield and quick production of Serrano Ham makes it much more profitable than raising Iberico Ham.
Iberian Black Pigs
The Iberian Black Pigs are a rare breed that are only found in Spain and some parts of Portugal. Their ancestry lineage reaches back to cavemen in the Iberian peninsula which means that this pig varies significantly from other strains. Iberico pigs can be separated into three varieties because not all are fully black. The Entrepelado, Lampino, Mamellado, Slivela & Negro de los Padroches have black hair, the Retinti, Colorado, Oliventina and Torbiscal are red, the Manchado de Jabugo is spotted and the Darado Gaditano are light skinned. Despite this, the Iberian pig is leaner and produces a marbling in the meat due to the ancient history of free-range raising and diet of grain and Acorns which are unique to this particular part of Spain. This a rare, unique and considered a superior breed compared to the white European variety.
Lifestyle and Diet
Some can say that the tale of the Serrano Ham is one that is often compared to the battery hen, and while this is the case for many serrano hams, it is not always the case. To produce a Serrano Ham, the farmer does not need to meet the strict specifications that are needed to produce a good Iberico Ham and therefore the pig is not raised as free range and is fed grain or substandard feed.The purpose of the white pig is to be as large as possible and create as much yield to sell on.
No imagine, the rich and beautiful flavours of the white pig when it has been cared for with the same love, care and attention as an Iberico leg? They are fully organic, free- range and fed high-quality grain. While Jamon Serrano has a reputation for being low quality, there are producers out there who care about the animals and care about the end product; these hams are incredible and can compare even to some Iberico hams!
The trade of Jamon Iberico is pretty strict. Each ham is inspected and tested to give it a classification based on the makeup of the meat itself. Majority of this testing is to ensure that the animal has lived the life that is needed to create the best-cured meat in the world. The very best Iberico Ham is produced from a free-range animal which is exclusively acorn-fed (this gives the meat its distinct nutty flavour). Lesser varieties (excluding the white label) are all free range but differ in breed or are a combination of Grain and Acorn Fed. It is essential that the animal is free range as the exercise produces a leaner animal that creates the perfect intramuscular fat content for maximum taste.
The curing process starts after the butchering of the animal. The Legs are coated and let to rest in salt for up to 2 weeks to draw out all of the excess water that is left in the meat. This intensifies the flavour of the meat and helps protect the meat during the curation process. Next, the legs are rinsed and hung dry for another 4-6 weeks then in a dry and airy space which is exposed to the elements. The Jamon Serrano is only hung from between 6 to 18 months depending on the size of the ham leg. This time frame is considered comparatively short but it creates that famous Serrano Ham 'young' and rich flavour.
The curation duration for the Jamon Iberico is much longer and the 'youngest' legs are hung for at least 24 months and up to 48 months. This explains the much more complex and nuanced taste that is associated with the Iberian Jamon variety.
Flavour, Aromas & Texture!
Serrano | Sweet, Rich, Salty and Intense
This is the important bit, the reason we are all here! All those rich, wonderful Jamon flavours, aromas and textures. When it comes to Serrano Ham, it is important to note that not all hams have been created equally. There are lots of ham's being sold which have been created for maximum yield and profit; these varieties are often found in the supermarkets. It has taken years of tasting and experience to find producers who care dearly about their Jamon. The flavour should be sweet, rich and salty; it should be fresh and intense on the palate. Compared to Iberico Ham, Serrano is much more robust and chews for much longer- this is what creates the intensity!
Iberico | Sweeter, Complex, Salty, Intense & Utterly Delicious
Without a doubt, the Iberico Hams are much superior in regards to flavours. Depending on the production, the different classifications of Jamon depends on the flavours which are found. On this topic, we cannot do it justice in a couple of sentences so it will be best to follow the link to our ultimate Jamon Iberico guide!