Storing your serrano ham is simple. When you buy your ham it will be covered in rind and waxed. You can keep it just like this at cool room temperature for up to a year or so.
Once you’ve started cutting your ham it is best to eat it within two to three months.
It is important to cover any exposed areas to keep it fresh and prevent it from drying out. The best way to do this is to keep the strips of rind and fat that you cut off to start with and re-cover the exposed meat.
Even better would be to rub some olive oil over the exposed meat first and then cover. If you can’t use the rind then a cloth or some cling-film will do the job.
Serrano hams should never be kept in the refrigerator, even after carving has begun. If you do have to store your ham in the refrigerator you must remove it and let it acclimatise for several hours before serving.
For the best gastromomic experience, always store and serve your ham at room temperature. Keep your ham somewhere cool, dry and airy but, most of all, somewhere accessible! You should do as the Spanish do and take your little bits of heaven as the fancy takes you.
The easiest and safest way to carve Serrano ham is to place it in a support called a ‘Jamonera’. This special stand ensures the ham is secure while you carve and gives you a handy place to keep your ham available at all times.
First of all, remove the rind with a decent, strong cooks knife. It is important to only remove the section of rind where you plan to begin slicing. If you remove too much rind the meat can dry out.
Once you’ve removed the rind, you can begin slicing. There is no better way than to use a traditional Spanish ham knife which is long, narrow and flexible. Just to confuse you, this is called a 'Jamonero’. These are very sharp when new and must be kept that way because the ham must be carved into extremely thin slices no more than 5 to 8 cms (2-3 inches) in length.
The thinner the slice, the more succulent and flavourful the treat. The top Serrano carvers can read newsprint through the slice!
The best place to begin cutting is at the narrowest part of the ham. There is very little fat here, so this is the part which will dry out more quickly. When you have removed the meat from this section, your ham can be turned over and you can begin on the other side. There is more fat on this part so you will get bigger and tastier slices.
When both sides are finished you can work on the tip of the ham, always cutting along the length to the bone. Here you will find another different taste because during the curing process the salt and fat infuses into this part of the ham.
If you would prefer a tutorial with colour pictures, you'll find an excellent one at Iberian Foods.co.uk
This one’s easy: simply carve it as above, put it on a plate and eat it on its own using your fingers - it’s the only way! If you wish, you can have some crusty bread with it, drizzled with some good olive oil. But leave it at that, the flavour of the ham needs nothing else.
By all means use your ham to cook with. Its unique characteristics will give a very special flavour to many dishes; like pasta, croquettes, omelettes and crepes. Personally though, I wouldn’t dream of cooking with a Bellota ham - it almost verges on the sacrilegious!
Lastly, don’t forget that once your ham is finished you will be left with a lovely bone that can be used to make a delicious stock.