Pork is not only important as a meat and sausage source, but also because of the famous and popular Spanish ham. In fact it's probably the most common tapa served in Spanish bars along a caña, and most company Christmas gifts are a whole ham leg instead of the traditional groceries basket that are typical in many countries
Spanish ham is known for its top quality, even the cheapest ham you can find in a supermarket is superior to those of many countries! This is why it's so common for Spaniards to eat ham bocadillos in school and at lunch time.
Two main varieties are produced and consumed in Spain. Serrano ham and Iberian ham. It's denomination depends on the pig the ham comes from and how it's fed and processed. So which one is better? It's very subjective. Many people prefer Serrano, but in Spain it's general knowledge that Iberian ham is superior to any other. However both types have top quality hams that are delicious!
Iberian ham is made from Iberian pig, original from the Iberian Peninsula. The pigs normally roam freely in pasture and oak forests to feed naturally, or at least, they will be if its destined for top quality ham. It's important that they can exercise physically.
To make an Iberian Ham, the fresh hams are salted and then to dry for two months. After this, the salt is rinsed off and then they undergo another four to six months of drying. The curing process follows which takes around a year but it depends on the particular ham producers. Some are even left for up to 48 months.
The pig's feeding is of extreme importance, so much in fact that the ham is classified by it. There are many myths in regards to classifications, for example, that jamón pata negra (black leg) is the best there is, referring to the color of the hoof. But in reality not all Iberian pigs have black hoofs and there are black hoofed specimens in others species too. The Agriculture Ministry in Spain has forbidden this classification.
The only Iberian ham official classification allowed is as follows:
The other typical Spanish ham variety is Serrano ham or "white ham" and it comes from some white pig races. It's called Serrano when the ham is cured in cold and dry mountain climates. Because it is cured in this way, the ham is therefore served uncooked and is always served in thin slices.
To make Jamón Serrano, the freshly made hams are first cut down and cleaned before being stacked up and covered with salt for a period of around two weeks. The salt is used to draw out any excess moisture from the meat and to preserve the meat so that it doesn't spoil. After this, the salt is washed off and then the hams are left to hang to dry for around six months. The final stage is the curing stage which varies depending on the ham. Unlike Iberian ham, it's classified according to length of curation, the longest period being the top quality Serrano ham:
If you ever take a trip to Spain you'll realize that most Spanish homes and bars have a ham stand (jamonero) where the ham is placed for cutting. Spaniards are very particular on the way the ham must be cut to obtain the perfect slices, and don't be surprised if you walk into a bar or a restaurant and see a lot of ham legs hanging from the ceiling!