Frequently Asked Questions
  • My ham has white dots on it. What are these?
The white dots that sometimes appear on a ham are crystals of an amino acid called tyrosine. This is an element of the protein in the meat the ham is made from. Sometimes proteins in the meat are broken down during the natural curing process, and amino acids are the materials of which proteins are made. Tyrosine does not dissolve well in water, so when the ham loses water during curing the tyrosine is left behind and crystallizes. It is considered a sign of high quality!
  • The product I have received has a lot of fat. Is this a sign that it is poor quality or spoiled?
Ham is naturally high in fat. The edible portion of a high quality ham often makes up only 50% by weight – 40% in the case of shoulder! The remainder is hoof, bone, and fat, as well as other nonedible parts. High fat content is not a sign that there is something wrong with your product!
  • How much fat should a ham or shoulder have?
It’s a rule of thumb that about half a ham is taken up by the edible portion. The other 50% is bone, hoof, extra fat and other nonedible parts. Shoulders are usually slightly higher in non-edible components.
  • When I slice my ham, I find it has a stale, bitter flavour. Is something wrong with it?
Most probably not! Make sure that you remove the outer rind and surface fat before slicing or the unpleasant flavour of these will be communicated to the meat by the knife.
  • Is my ham "black leg ham"? Is "black leg ham" better?
In nature, some pigs have black hooves and some have white. The colour of the hoof is nothing to do with the quality of the ham! What does decide the quality of the ham is the pig’s breed, how it is reared and looked after, what it is fed (acorns, grass, commercial feed, etc.) and how the meat is cured. It does matter whether the hoof of your ham is black or white. You should bear in mind, too, that the term, 'black leg ham', is no longer in use: on October 15, 2005, it was officially replaced by a quality standard.
  • What is the difference between one kind of ham and another?
Ham can be distinguished by the breed of pig it comes from, the diet the pigs are fed and the way the meat is cured. In terms of diet, acorn-fed ham comes from pigs reared in the open and grazing on grass and acorns in the fields. Grass-fed ham comes from pigs that feed naturally in fields, while grain-fed ham comes from pigs that are fed fodder on the farm.

'Iberian' ham comes from Iberian pigs. Most pigs are crossbred to some extent and the more Iberian blood the pigs have the more ‘pure’ the iberian ham is. The degree of crossbreeding is tightly controlled, recorded and regulated!

New legislation proposes to label as ‘100% iberian’ if its forebears are written into the book of the breed as 100% Iberian; for crossbreeds, the percentage of Iberian stock indicated also indicates the percentage of Duroc or other breeds present. The term ‘pure iberian’ is to be withdrawn from use.

Serrano ham is obtained from pigs reared on the farm and fed grains intensively. Serrano ham with ETG (Traditional Speciality Guaranteed) certification has been cured for a minimum of 7 months, and could be cured for as much as 24 months, depending on the brand. Major breeds for this kind of ham are Duroc, Landrace, Large White and Pietrain. Something like 90% of Spanish ham production is accounted for by this type of ham. Iberian ham accounts for only about 10%. The iberian breed comes mainly from the Cáceres, Badajoz, and Huelva regions, and are fed on acorns, grass and grains. Respectively, these ham types are referred to as ‘Ibérico de bellota’ (acorn-fed’), ‘Ibérico de cebo de campo’ (‘grass-fed’), and ‘Ibérico de cebo’ (‘grain-fed’). This type of ham is typically cured for between 14-36 months.
  • What is the difference between jamón jabugo and jamón ibérico?
Jamón Jabugo is the name of a type of ham produced in the town of Jabugo, in Huelva. Brands like Five Jacks (5J) have made this type of ham famous, and the locality belongs to the Denomination of Origin of Huelva, which has a big reputation. Jamón Jabugo is a kind of Iberian ham; Jamón Ibérico means ‘iberian ham.’
  • How much of a ham should be bone?
As a rule of thumb, you should allow for half of your ham being non-edible. In hams, about 30% is usually bone; in shoulders, this figure is more like 40%.
  • How should I store my ham once I have bought it?
Ham or shoulder should always be stored in a cool, dry place, at room temperature. Any cut surface should be covered by the ham’s outer covering of rind and fat to preserve moisture and prevent drying out and loss of quality.