The process of curing serrano ham. To get our Serrano ham, the pigs are 'sacrificed' in the winter and the hams are packed in piles of salt to help dry and preserve them.
The length of this salting process depends on temperature and the weight of the ham but is usually around one to two weeks.
The minimum amount of salt is used because a Serrano ham which is over-salted becomes heavy and tough over time.
The salt is then cleaned off and the hams are hung up to dry, for between 1 to 2 months, at a temperature of between 5º to 10ºC and a high humidity of 75-80%.
This period is called ‘asentamiento’ and concentrates the flavour by drying out the moisture and infusing the ham with the remaining salt.
Next comes the real curing process which turns the white fat to yellow, transforms the meat into its deep ruby colour, and gives Serrano ham its characteristic aroma. This lasts between 6 to 12 months with the meat adapting to the temperature and humidity of spring and summer.
After the first month or so of this, the hams are covered with a blue-grey mould. It doesn’t look very appetising but this is what gives it its aroma because in the summer, as the hams sweat off the fat, the odour of the mould infuses into the meat.
During the last month or so of the curing period the hams will go through ‘maduracion’. This is when the temperature and humidity is dramatically increased to spread the fats throughout the ham and increase the flavour. After this carefully controlled process the hams will have lost 20% to 40% of their weight and will be considered ready for sale.
At this point most of the hams will indeed be shipped out.
However, the finest Iberico hams will now be transferred to caves or ‘bodegas’ for another 12 to 18 months. This extra curing period is called ‘añejado’ and gives these hams their celebrated complex flavours. The end result is a sweet, dark red meat marbled with rich golden fat, infused with the nutty flavour of its staple diet, the humble acorn.
You can’t get better than this!
Oh, but you can, see the page on Serrano ham and your health.