The Spanish love their cured hams, the numerous varieties all have their place in the national cuisine.
The methods used are similar to those used in Italy for the well known 'Parma Ham' and other cured 'prosciutto' and in the opinion of many gourmets are equally as good, if not better.
The annual per head consumption of cured ham in Spain is around five kilos with not far short of 40 million hams processed every year.
'Jamon Serrano' is the most commonly eaten variety and is distinct from the more expensive 'Jamon Iberico', although in Spain neither variety can be considered expensive.
'Seranno', meaning mountain
Factors effecting the flavour and level of quality of Spanish cured hams are the breed of pig and how it has been fed, whether the foreleg or shoulder (paleta) or hind leg (jamon) is used, and any differences in the curing process.
Jamon Seranno comes under three principal names
All are produced from the 'Large White, Landrace or Duroc' types of pig.
Jamon Iberico is more expensive and comes in three qualities
Connoisseurs will seek out those varieties of Pata Negra that are made from range fed pigs fattened on acorns in cork oak woods on the western borders between Spain and Portugal.
Jamon Iberico represents only about 5% of total Spanish cured ham production.
Stands of 'Jamones'ready to be carved can be seen in every Spanish food store and rows of cured hams can be seen hanging in many bars, much to the pride of the owner.
The cured hams can be obtained ready sliced and wrapped or better still, freshly carved in paper thin slices from a 'Jamones' stand.
Jamon Seranno is a basic everyday food in Spain and is accompanied by cheeses, salads, melon and in a host of other recipes together with featuring in every tapas bar.
It has a distinctively different fuller flavour from the better known Italian prosciuttos with less fat, firmer texture and a more natural 'country' taste.
Visitors to Spain should not fail to try out these excellent cured hams to appreciate the reasons for the Spanish love of this delicacy.
Fortunately 'Jamon Seranno' and 'Jamon Iberico' varieties are now available throughout Europe and elsewhere with the United States having lifted restrictions on their import into the country.