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There are few foods that are more Spanish than ham. Alongside gazpacho and paella, it might just be the country’s most iconic food.
Spanish ham (jamón) is the one food that all Spaniards, by default of just being Spanish, have to like. Whenever I’ve heard a foreigner say they don’t like jamón, the response of every single Spaniard has been, “well then you haven’t tried the good stuff!”.
Because for Spaniards, there’s no way that anyone couldn’t like ham!
The “good stuff” is jamón ibérico de bellota, a melt-in-your-mouth, otherworldly ham experience. This is one of the world’s most sought-after foods, and holds records for its headache-inducing prices. The world’s most expensive legs of ham are these Spanish beauties, going for $4,500 each.
But before you reach this ridiculously delicious (and very expensive) level of Spanish ham, there is a plethora of styles, breeds, cures, and colors to choose from. Let’s break them down.
Spanish ham is the best thing that can happen to the back leg of a pig. Rather than cooking the ham, you make jamón by dry-curing the leg. After slaughter, the legs are trimmed and cleaned, and then stacked in a barrel full of salt. They’re left for roughly two weeks to drain as much moisture as possible!
After that, the salt is wiped off and the legs are left to hang and cure. It’s carved off of the bone and served alongside other cured meats, sausages, and cheeses as an appetizer.
The Spanish tradition of ham making dates back more than 2,000 years to when the Roman Empire controlled most of the country. Even to the exotic palates of the Romans, Spanish ham was a delicacy.
But for hundreds of years, cured ham legs were a specialty reserved only for royalty and clergy. It wasn’t until the 13th century that ham made its way to the everyman’s table. Today, the average Spaniard eats more than 7 pounds of cured ham per year!