Serrano Ham: Join the Converted
Sorry Italy. Spain Might Have You Beat!
Okay. This has nothing directly to do with Spain (or Italy, for that matter). It concerns two people living in Cold Spring, NY who share a passion for European cured hams. Michael and I have been enjoying Italian Prosciutto di Parma for decades, since long before we even met. Whether on a hero with other cured meats, or rolled into fresh mozzarella, or thieved straight from the package on the car ride back from the deli, neither of us can remember a time when Prosciutto was not a part of our lives. Such a delicacy couldn’t possibly be improved upon. Or could it?
Then, a trip to Spain for Michael in ’04 nearly ended an era. One taste of sweet, nutty, gamy Serrano ham (Spain’s equivalent to Italy’s Prosciutto) simply ruined him! At the time, cured hams from Spain had not earned FDA approval, and could not be acquired in the US. So, it was deemed a holiday in our home, about 5 years later, when Jamón Serrano finally hit our shores. My first taste was life-altering as well. Don’t get me wrong: fine prosciutto will remain in the mix. But once I began my romance with Serrano, my preference has swung heavily towards the gamy vs. the salty cured meat treat.
Accounting for the major difference in character and quality of Serrano versus other European cured ham is the life and diet of the pigs. Free-range and acorn-fed, these animals deliver terroir into their meat, in much the same way as grass-fed cows do to cheese, and decades-old grapevines to wine. The gamy pork flavor is accentuated (rather than seemingly stripped-away, as in most commercial hams), and the more natural integration of fat into the leaner leg meat leaves a silky texture seldom encountered in other hams. Longer-aged Jamón, or Reservas, need not even be sliced super-thin to be enjoyed.
Serving Serrano is where your experimental side can pay off. Whereas with Prosciutto, sliced cantaloupe is an age-old pairing for a refreshing mid-day snack, with Serrano, we found that exploiting its richness and “Spanish-ness” is the way to go. Press a Marcona Almond into a small hunk of avocado, and roll it into a slice of Serrano. The explosion of sweet/gamy flavor, contrasting fats, and salty crunch will spoil your palate rotten! Complete the process by sipping on a briny, acidic Fino Sherry. Now THAT’s a mouthful of mouthfeel!
To begin your exploration, visit Murray’s Cheese at midtown and downtown, and choose from several Jamón Serrano varieties from top producers, starting below $30/lb. And if you’re ready to investigate Sherry, browse through the finest, carefully-chosen selections at Suburban Wines.
Mark your calendar now for our December spirits event – The Wine and Sherry Showdown!