The pig and therefore ham, have formed part of our Spanish heritage and culture for centuries.

For a long time, eating pork was a symbol of nobility, of power, of majesty… The pig has been with man from the dawn of time and has satisfied many of his needs, becoming an essential food in any kitchen.

The Iberian Peninsula, long before the time of the Romans, was already held in high esteem as a producer of pigs, legs of pork and hams.

For many villages, ham, like wine and olive oil, became a product to barter and trade with.

We can say that the history of the pig and ham goes back to the time of the Celts; where the pig became an animal fundamental in their lives; they turned it into an object of worship and a staple of their diet.

Ham and the Roman Empire

Ham and the Roman Empire

However, it is in the age of the Roman Empire where most references to ham and its history appear. With the Romans (200 AD) practices related to salting and conservation of what was known as “Cecina de Cerdo” (air dried pork meat) were already being made.

The “matanza” or slaughter of the pig was institutionalised. In the beginning it was the cook (or Coquus) – who was normally a slave with good connections – who carried out the slaughter of the pig. With the passage of time it was specialised cooks, known as “vicarius supra cenas”, who carried out such tasks and who constituted the “Collegium Coquorum”.

In these times, besides consuming ham, other parts of the pig, (loin, heads, ribs, pork belly…) salted or stuffed into casings were also eaten. However, ham was the most valued piece of the pig and only eaten by the elite in society.

The recommendations of those times regarding the stages of salting and curing of Serrano Ham and other parts of the pig, are still in use to this day. In addition it was already known that the climate of the area where those processes were to be carried out, was very important, since to a large extent, they determined the length of the salting period. These types of production have been gradually perfected with the aim of improving the product (for example, salting was carried out in the ancient world but using the whole pig).

Hams from Pomeipoles (Pamplona) were held in high regard and the production in Tarraco (Tarragona) was also important – a fossilised ham was found here, in Conesa, dated at more than 2,000 years old.

The Roman world was dedicated for centuries to the production of ham, to such an extent that in 200 AD hams were produced in Cantabria and Sardinia and from the first to the fourth century there was an important production.

Ham since the Middle Ages

Ham since the Middle Ages

With the appearance of Medieval society, monasteries and convents were responsible for preserving the country’s gastronomic culture. Monks, besides tending their gardens, used to raise a pig each year for its subsequent slaughter. Thus, there was always food in their pantries.

In the Xll and Xll centuries Spain advanced southward, allowing the growth of stockbreeding since more meadows and forests were found for the feeding of pigs. In these times the peasantry had increasing access to pig breeding, although in a limited way; but gradually the slaughter and production of hams and charcuterie became more common in towns and villages.

The late Xlll century saw a major expansion of stockbreeding, during this period we can start to see herds of pigs, in a semi-wild state, in close relation with cork oak and oak groves.

Written literature from the XlV century (for example, several texts from the Archpriest of Hita) also shows the great importance of ham in our country. In the XVll century, poets and writers bore witness to the qualities of ham in several literary works: Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, Lope de Vega in his comedies, Tirso de Molina, Góngora…

According to an old legend, there are three “elves” who made Serrano Ham into a gastronomic art: imagination, experience and time.

The pig and Serrano Ham, is and has been quintessentially Spanish, an ambassador of Spanish culture, present most of the time in our dishes and meals. The reason for its success may be that every part of this animal can be used

– “ …from its head …to its trotters”.

A legendary origin...

Legend has it that ham emerged when a pig fell into a stream with a high concentration of salt and drowned.

Some shepherds retrieved the pig and roasted it, discovering that it had a pleasant taste, especially the leg.

Later they noticed that salting the ham preserved it for longer without its losing flavour, so they gradually perfected the method until they achieved, for the time, one of the best cured hams in the world.

Ham in proverbs

“A la carne vino, y si es jamón, con más razón. (Wine with food, and if it is ham, twice as good).”

“Al Jamón de tocino, buen golpe de vino (With ham and pork fat, wine by the vat)”.

“Al viajero jamón, vino y pan casero. (Greet the traveller with ham, wine and homebaked bread)”.

“Allí se me ponga el sol, donde me den vino y jamón. (The sun goes down on me, wherever they give me wine and ham)”.

“Aquel que se coma el hueso, que se coma el jamón (He who eats the bone, let him eat the ham)”.