Serrano Ham

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

serrano ham or ‘mountain ham’ in Spanish jamón serrano, was the generic name for all cured Spanish ham, but it now refers only to hams from white pigs. Curing traditions go back to the 1st century BC (Strabo mentions them in his Geography) and artisanal dry-salted ham-making still flourishes in chilly, dry mountain areas. They include Teruel (now a Denomination of Origin, in Aragon) and Trévelez (Spain’s highest village, in Granada). Occasionally, as in the Rioja, hams may be rubbed with ground red pepper and spices; in damp Galicia they may be lightly smoked. Generally serrano is eaten raw, sliced into very thin slices, but for cooking it may be cut into chips (tacos), as in baby broad beans sautéed in olive oil with jamón, while a hambone lifts many classic pulse stews. Sold off-the-bone or pre-packed, modern factory-cured ham tends to be eaten in thicker slices, alone or with bread, as in Catalan pa amb tomàquet (bread with tomato). These hams have long had widespread celebrity. In 1752 the Earl of Chesterfield, whose letters to an errant son were a touchstone of good parenting (as well as elegant English prose), gave effusive thanks to his cousin for sending over a ham from Granada.