I love Spanish meat and hams. But even I confess to having first been baffled by the vast array of Iberico meats on offer in the country.
The more you look, the easier it is to become confused. What will you like? Which should you buy?
We’ve written previously on this site about jamon serrano and various chorizo.
But some of the most easy to serve Iberican meats are those that have been prepared for months or years and all you have to do is slice them, serve them and enjoy eating them.
Where to begin?
Lomo Embuchado is a dry cured meat that is seasoned with smoked paprika, garlic and spices.
It varies in colour between pink and bright red. It is a whole pork loin that is dried for two months. The curing process sees any visible fat removed.
The meat is kept in sea salt and then washed before being seasoned with spices such as oregano and paprika. Lemon and olive oil are also used prior to the meat being packed into a casing.
It is then hung in a drying store at temperatures that are strictly managed.
Best cut into thin slices, it has a lightly salty and smoky taste. It is an ideal appetiser or tapas.
Only 5% of hams come from the native black pig. Iberico meat is leaner and tougher than that from other pigs.
Jamon Iberico de Bellota is considered to be a high grade Spanish ham.
It comes at a price. It’s not the cheapest Spanish meat to buy.
The pig must be 75% Iberian by breed. They must have put on at least 40% of their weight under free range conditions, fed solely on a diet of acorns and vegetation from the Dehesa (oak forests) in Extremadura.
It is a very smooth ham that will have been cured for up to two and a half years.
Believe me when I tell you, it’s worth the wait.
Recebo refers to a pig which, for the last month of its life, was fed on a diet of grain and acorns. The meat Iberico de Recebo is cured for 24 months. It is the less expensive option should you want a little of the taste of Bellota, but not wish to spend so much.
If you see the word Pienso then the pig that produced that ham was entirely grain fed. More than 30% of the final weight of the animal must be made up of authorized cereals. This ham is cured for 24 months.
There is not one type of Salchichón, the long, thin salami like meat that you’ll see everywhere in Spain. There are several variations on the theme of salchichon. I like the peppery version.
Unlike chorizo, salchichón is not seasoned with pimentón but, instead, flavoured with black peppercorns.
Longaniza also varies depending on whereabouts in Spain it hails from. The word encompasses a wide array of sausage meat.
In Aragon this meat is made up of 70% of lean pork meat and bacon. Along with 30% of pork fat mixed with salt, pepper, oregano, nutmeg, cumin, vinegar, garlic and cloves.
Meanwhile, the longaniza from Pamplona is made of pork fat, egg, cooked rice, parsley, saffron.
Then there is the very popular version called fuet, which comes from from Catalunya. It is a long, thin and quite chewy sausage with a thick and natural layer of white mold. This is made using lean pork meat and ground bacon that is marinated in pepper, white wine and a variety of spices. Catalans like to cut this wafer thin.
There are so many Iberico meats to choose from. The only way to know which you like most is to try them and be sure to make a mental note of those that appeal.