I thought you would enjoy this picture. One thing I enjoy about Spain is that you really have a lot of chances to see the original form your food was in before you eat it, even in a big city like Madrid. This was taken at a friend’s house who had me over for dinner. They have this leg of ham (actually its a “paleta”, the front leg) with the hoof and everything sitting on their counter ready to cut whenever anyone wants some, last year I had one of these in my own kitchen too. This is normal in Spain. Most tapas bars will have a leg as well and cut it off paper thin as you order.
If there is one thing that pretty much all the provinces in Spain can agree on it is their love for “jamón.” This is the caviar of Spain. Considered a real delicacy, people will go especially overboard and buy the most expensive ham to acompany the Christmas dinner, without which it would be incomplete. Cured ham, Jamon Serrano, Jamon Iberico and Jamon de Jabugo are the stars. Jamon Serrano refers to the ham produced from pigs in the Alpujarras, a part of the Sierra Nevada mountiains, near Granada. Jamon Iberico “pata negra” refers to the black Iberian pigs and is evident from the black hoof. Jamon de Jabugo is from a small town in Huelva, western Andalucia. Also look for Jamon de Bellota which means the pig lived in a natural environment and its diet consisted of the acorns or “bellota” from the Holm oak and of natural forrage from oak and cork trees. This is important not only to achieve the exqisite taste of the ham, but it also makes the ham very healthy. A good ham should be marbled with fat and this fat is high in oelic acid which is also found in olive oil. So its good for you!!
The price of ham can be 7 or 107 euros a kilo. Of course the more expensive hams will be better, depening on the pigs, their diet, the curing process, etc. You know you are eating good ham when it practically melts in your mouth. If its waxy tasting and turns into a ball in your mouth you are eating cheap ham.
Click here for more info about jamón in English.
One fun place to try ham is at the bar pictured below, the Museo del Jamon. The Museum of Ham. There are several locations near Sol and the Plaza Mayor. Its really an experience to be surrounded by hundreds of legs of ham waiting to be sold. You can see several different varieties at different prices. As a “racion” the ham is about 12 Euros a plate (ask for the Iberian ham). There is also a deli for cheeses and desserts.