Iberico ham is the star product of the Spanish gastronomy and, although we all like to enjoy its flavour at any time, it is not clear why ham is cured with salt. But would you want to find out? In Enrique Tomás we will explain it to you because, in addition to marketing the best Iberian products, we want to be at the forefront of the whole culture that surrounds it!
Curing of the Ham
In the past, in order to delay the expiry date of hams after they had been cut out, the legs were buried in salt and dry cured and this is how the salting and drying process was born. Salting is the name given to the preservation method by which the hams are dehydrated with salt, burying them in this mineral to enhance their flavour and prevent the action of bacteria.
Before starting the process, the experts make a V-shaped cut into the ham rind the to allow the mineral to penetrate better and to enhance the flavours and nuances. However, this cut is not made to all the pieces, and the Huelva ham shoulders are the exception that confirms the rule.
That said, once done, the hams are stacked one on top of the other in containers making no more than five levels of ham legs and buried all in salt, interspersed with a row of meat and another of salt. Then, passed two or three days and the container is turned over so that the salt falls on the opposite side of the hams and the salt reaches both sides. This process is repeated over and over again until the legs remain two weeks in this mineral, then they are removed and washed with warm water.
When rinsing them, the salt adhered to the outside is removed and only the salt that remains is the one we are interested in, the salt absorbed inside each piece. Afterwards, the ham is moulded, shaped and refined to improve its morphological features – since they have been stacked one on top of the other – and the next stage of the ham’s curing process is continued.
How is this process completed?
Today, unlike in the past, the salting process is mechanical and the containers are turned over automatically, making this task much easier, saving time and homogenising the salting process. Depending on the salting and drying process followed by the experts, the ham pieces will have one flavour or another. For example, the producers of Salamanca leave their legs hanging longer than the rest of the experts and as a result the taste of the famous Guijuelo ham is softer. This is just one of the examples but, as the saying goes, every teacher has his or her own booklet.
The “cooks”, as we like to call them in Enrique Tomás, decide what flavor they want to give to the pieces before starting and they have all the information they need thereof: the breed of the pig from which the pieces come, the diet that they have followed or the amount fat they have, among other data, and based on this information, they will decide what taste they want each ham to have and what to do to achieve it.
As you can see, this process is much more complex than it seems and now that you know why the ham is cured with salt and the work it takes to produces it, don’t think it twice and make sure you buy a top-quality piece made from real pigs and cured as it should!
Now that you have the theory under control, we recommend you to check for yourself, the different nuances of flavor of each cured ham according to its origin. Discover if you prefer the intense flavour of the Jabugo’s ham or if you rather like the softer flavours, such as the ham from Guijuelo.