In order for a Jamón to be of the highest quality, we must pay the same attention to the care of the pig as to the “curing” of the Jamón, that is the way we call in Enrique Tomás. The time invested in all this has to be enough to ensure that the delicacy you get is first class and it’s not raw meat, if you want to know how long it takes to dry cure a Jamón, you’ve come to the right place. No piece is made overnight and as a sign of this, we will explain the four phases to be followed and the time required for each one of them. Let’s get started!
Stages of curing a Jamón
First stage: getting the Jamón ready
The first thing we have to do is get the ham leg ready. Once it is cut, both legs and shoulders go through a peeling process where they are well cleaned and spend between 24 and 48 hours at rest to settle and temper. After this time and before starting with the “cooking”, the pieces are massaged to remove any remaining blood, a process carried out by specialized machines that do not affect the quality of the product.
Second stage: salting, each expert has its own way of doing things
At this time of the curing, the hams are buried in salt to dehydrate them, strengthen their flavour and prevent the action of bacteria. Depending on the weight of the pieces and the manufacturer’s taste, the hams will stay longer or shorter, although the average is usually around 12 hours per kilogram. It is worth mentioning that although the production process of all hams is very similar, in each area of Spain and depending on the final product you want to obtain, each cook uses his or her own wisdom and techniques to achieve different nuances, as in wine!
With regard to the salting process, which is nothing other than “the action of salting a food”, in ham production what is done is to bury the pieces in salt. In order to make salt penetrate better, a’ V’ cut is made in the upper part that speeds up the curing process; although there is an exception, the Huelva ham shoulders. To achieve the desired salting, the time and the salt quantity, there are two variables to be handled.
The time spent in this second stage will always depend on the weight of the pieces and the special touch of the manufacturer, although the average is one day per kilogram.
Third stage: “secaderos” (special cellars), process carried out in two stages
This stage lasts about six months and consists of hanging the ham legs in these special cellars to let the fat infiltrate the muscle fibers. First the pieces are hung for about three or four months in these cellars with temperatures between 6 and 16ºC and a humidity of about 70%. Then, during the second, shorter stage, the temperature rises to between 16 and 30ºC and the percentage of humidity can vary slightly.
During this process, the skill of the “cook” comes into play, who will evaluate the effects of each of these variables on the pieces. In this period hams and shoulders need time and quietness, just pay attention to the hams, it will be enough to simply control the variable humidity and temperature and make sure they are at the right point at all times.
Last stage: curing and ageing
The duration of this stage, like the drying stage, depends on the quality of the meat and its weight. The pieces are hung in cellars for a period of between six and thirty months and, unlike the previous stage, if you have to pay more attention to them. In order to ensure that the hams are cured as evenly as possible, the experts grease the pieces with lard which is applied especially in areas where there is less fat to avoid that part drying too much and, when finished, the hams will be ready.
The skills of the experts are essential at this point, because thanks to their expertise the pieces will be left in place avoiding that later we find very dry pieces or slices of very disparate color. This process is completely handmade and continues to be done manually.
As a curiosity, we tell you that during this time the pieces can accumulate up to 3-4 centimetres of mold, which brings extraordinary aromas to the ham. Each area of Spain produces a different color mold, in Salamanca is white while the one of Jabugo is dark.
We have already stated that the duration of all stages will be longer or shorter depending on the tastes of the chefs and the weight and quality of the pieces. However, in general terms, this whole process takes 18 months in the case of Jamón Gran Reserva de Enrique Tomás – the white pigs considered to be of better quality -, in the case of Jamón Ibérico de Cebo, it takes 24 months and Jamón Ibérico de Bellota will take a total of 36 months to reach the exact point to be consumed. Remember that if you want to know more details about each of these processes and the world of jamón in general, you can have a look at the book Jamón for Dummies.
Once all this is finished, and all the tests required to ensure that the meat is first class, we prepare it for further commercialization. As soon as it comes to you, either through our specialised shops or our website, it will be ready. So, now that you know how long it takes to cure a jamón and that you understand why the price is what it is, make sure you buy a premium ham to get the most out of all the work our artisans have done.