I have realised that I haven´t even written about the most important thing in the whole Spanish peninsula: Spanish ham or jamón. This strip of meat is such a big deal in this country that they don’t even have bacon here! According to many sources if you ask an expat Spaniard about what they miss the most about their country there’s a very high chance they will say ‘jamón’. But why is this piece of pig’s leg adored so much here?
You are probably familiar with the story of how the Christian Kings Fernando and Isabella chased the Muslims out and took over the rule of the country. You might have even heard about the unfair rules they forced upon the Muslims who decided to stay here. Eventually they all had to face the inevitable: they either go home and give up all their wealth to the Kings or stay here and convert to Christianity.
Many of the Moors tried to lie and pretend to be Christian while secretly followed the teachings of Allah. To make sure this doesn’t happen the Inquisitors started to check on the people. They had to prove to be following the new religion and what is the best way to demonstrate this? To eat ham.
From here on jamón has become part of the culture, part of being Christian and consequently part of being Spanish. Next to the tortilla and the paella this is the most famous part of the Spanish cusine.
There are many types of jamón. There’s the York and the serrano which are usually offered as a choice when you go to buy a bocadillo from the street. However if you want the real deal you have to look for the ‘Iberico de Bellota’. This comes from a special breed of pigs who only eat acorns. These are obviously the most expensive ones. You know you’re served a bellota jamón when the taste is stronger than the bread itself (this is not true for the other types) and when it just melts in your mouth. In fact the Spanish eat this without bread. In most bars there is an option to ask for a tapas which only consist of a plateful of nicely arranged ham slices.
In Spain you can find jamón in most bars and restaurants. The way they display it is quite interesting: they hang the leg of pig from the ceiling! It’s quite a decoration, if I say so myself. You can spot the iberico type easily as the hoof is black. You have to be careful though as some enterprising owners tend to paint the hooves to increase their sales. Sometimes you walk into a place with its ceiling full of hanging pig legs and you have to remind yourself that what you see above you is actually quite a lot of money!
As you know it’s quite hot here in Andalucia. It is inevitable that the meat will eventually start to ‘sweat’. To avoid the dripping under each leg there’s a little device attached which serves to collect the dripping fat. Ew!
Finally, the grading. The jamón is graded with ‘j’ or ‘hota’. The best quality of ham you can get has 5 ‘hotas’. You can imagine that some special, exclusive types of jamón are worth more than the price of gold!
I hope I was able to give you a little lesson about the famous jamón. Now you know what to get for your far-from-home Spanish friend for Christmas. And equally, if you get ham from a Spanish person as a present, know that this does not only mean a piece of meat but the best that person can offer you from their home.