Spaniards have been curing hams for hundreds of years, the practice is even said to date back as far as Roman times. The most common ham in Spain is the Serrano or Mountain ham which accounts for around 93% of ham production in the country.
How long the ham is cured for depends on its intended grade or the preferred length of time the secadero (curing house) prefers. The majority of Spanish Serrano hams are cured for around a year, these are sometimes called bodega hams or jamon curado which basically means they are a ham which has been hung for the minimum length of time required.
Higher grade hams which are cured for longer are usually labeled reserva or grand reserva, again depending on the time hung, any ham which is cured for more than 14 months can be granted the reserva label. There are however some secaderos that cure their hams for 22 24 months, these examples are typically called Anejo meaning old. Anejo hams tend to be large weighing in at anywhere between 9 11kg, the reason for this is that due to the curing time the hams have to be large and plump initially as they will lose up to 35% of their weight during curing.
What about flavour?
Flavours do vary between hams and although subtle to anyone but the connoisseur texture and aroma also play an important role. As a general rule the longer the ham is cured for the more intense the flavour, anejo hams have real depth and go well with bossy red wines, manchego cheese and fruit. Younger hams are milder but still deliver good flavour and texture and are ideal for tapas and also cooking in recipes such Serrano ham croquettes, stuffed chicken or lightly fried with poached egg.
Whichever ham you choose the flavour will be greatly enhanced by carving your slices wafer thin, these slices also need to rest at room temperature where they will to sweat, it is at this point that your Spanish ham is ready to be thoroughly enjoyed.