The Serrano ham vs. prosciutto debate may confuse people living outside of Spain and Italy.
After all, both types of meat are dry-cured pork leg. However, the differences between these two types of meat aren’t limited to their place of origin. They’re made using different curing techniques and, consequently, each has a unique taste.
In this article, I’ll explain what Serrano ham and prosciutto are and how they’re prepared. Keep reading to learn more about the Serrano ham vs prosciutto discussion.
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What Is Serrano Ham?
Serrano ham is also known under another name, Jamón. As the name suggests, Jamon originated in the Serrano region of Spain.
However, unlike, prosciutto di Parma, Jamon Serrano’s production isn’t limited to one geographical area. Today, it’s made across the entire country, and each region has slightly different preparation guidelines that lead to different flavor undertones.
Jamón Serrano is dry cured ham. Originally, only indigenous Ibérico pigs were used in the preparation (to make Jamón Ibérico).
But later, Spanish artisans also started using Duroc or Landrace pigs as they reproduce quickly and are accustomed to modern farming practices.
Many years ago, Spanish artisans used the power of Mother Nature to prepare Serrano ham.
The meat was preserved using the natural change of seasons. It was prepared in the mountains, where the climate changed from cold and moist in winter to hot and dry in summer. This ensured the gradual aging and preservation of the meat.
Today, Jamón Serrano can be made both in curing sheds in Spanish mountains and in large factories scattered across the country. The preparation involves three steps.
1. Salting. Fresh meat cut from the pig is generously rubbed with salt and placed in a cold, humid room for 20 hours to two days. This allows the salt to absorb.
2. Post-salting. The first layer of salt is rinsed to remove any bacteria and water it has absorbed.
3. Dry curing. Meat is hung in special cellars that mimic the change of the seasons using modern technology. Cellar conditions change from cold and humid to dry and hot. This process preserves ham, melts the fat, and gives the cured meat its unique flavor.
While Serrano ham can be produced in any Spanish region, the quality standard is strictly observed by the Consorcio del Jamón Serrano Español.
You can recognize genuine Serrano ham by an S-shaped mark. The ham should pass the following test to receive the quality mark:
- Be produced in Spain
- Be dry-cured for an average of 12 months
- Have a minimum fat cover of 1 cm.
- Must have at least a 34% decrease from its fresh weight.
- Each Spanish ham must pass flavor and appearance inspection.
- Must be produced by firms that pass the quality audits that are periodically performed by the Consorcio.
What Is Prosciutto?
“Prosciutto” translates as “ham” from Italian. It’s a type of dry-cured pork that is traditionally made in Italy, but today can also be produced in other countries.
This doesn’t apply to genuine prosciutto di Parma, Toscana, Modena, or San Daniele, though. These varieties are exclusive to the named regions.
Prosciutto can be both raw (prosciutto crudo) and cooked (prosciutto cotto), similar to deli ham.
It comes in a variety of forms, from whole legs to thin raw slices and cooked sandwich slices. But in this article, I’ll talk about classic prosciutto crudo.
Italian prosciutto production involves the following steps:
- The pig leg is generously rubbed with salt.
- The meat is left to rest for a week or a few weeks. During this time, salt absorbs excess water and any remaining blood. This also prevents bacteria from entering the meat.
- The meat is washed from the first layer of salt, and a new layer is applied. Often, herbs such as thyme and garlic are used along with salt.
- The meat is left to age in a cool and dry room for 14-36 months. During this time, the meat matures and acquires its unique flavor.
The preparation process may vary depending on the region. For instance, Prosciutto di Parma is never made with herbs – the only ingredients in its recipe are salt and ham. It’s also typically cured for a longer time.
Prosciutto must feature a Ducal Crown mark issued by the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma to be considered prosciutto di Parma.
Prosciutto di San Daniele, prosciutto di Modena, and prosciutto di Toscana also follow different preparation guidelines, must be made within a specific region, and hold a quality mark.
What Are the Similarities Between Serrano Ham and Prosciutto?
Serrano ham and prosciutto are both made from white pigs and are dry-cured. As a result, both types of meat have a salty flavor and melt in mouth texture if thinly sliced.
Both Serrano ham and prosciutto are perfect for charcuterie boards, pasta dishes, or as a side for wine and can be safely eaten raw, as the curing process naturally preserves meat. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to substitute one for the other in cooking.
Lastly, Serrano ham and prosciutto di Parma must both hold a quality mark, but this doesn’t apply to other types of prosciutto.
What Are the Differences Between Serrano Ham and Prosciutto?
While prosciutto and Serrano ham may seem alike, they have more differences than similarities.
Serrano ham can be made only in Spain, whereas prosciutto can be made anywhere in the world as long as the preparation process is correct.
This doesn’t apply to Parma, San Daniele, Modena, and Toscana ham that must be made in the Parma region.
Prosciutto comes in both raw and cooked forms, while Serrano ham is always raw.
The biggest difference in the Serrano ham vs. prosciutto debate is the preparation process.
Prosciutto was historically aged in cellars and is always cured in dry and cool places. In contrast, Serrano ham is aged in different environmental conditions, changing from cool and humid to hot and dry.
This results in slightly different flavors. Prosciutto is sweeter and moister, whereas Serrano ham is more intense and drier. Prosciutto is also pinker and softer than Serrano ham.
Summary Table: Serrano Ham vs. Prosciutto
To provide you with an even better understanding of the comparison between Serrano ham and prosciutto, see the table below.
|Animal Source||Pig (pork)||Pig (pork)|
|Produced In (Region)||In any Spanish region. It can’t be produced outside of Spain.||Anywhere, apart from prosciutto varieties that are exclusive to the Parma, Toscana, San Daniele, and Modena regions.|
|Quality Mark||S-shaped, issued by the Consorcio del Jamón Serrano Español.||None, apart from varieties exclusive to certain regions.|
|Raw or Cooked||Only available raw.||Is available both raw and cooked.|
|Curing Process||Is cured using a change in environmental conditions – from hot and dry to cool and moist.||Is cured in cool and dry place.|
|Curing Duration||12 months on average||14-36 months|
|Taste||Intense and salty||Sweet and salty|
|Texture||Drier but melts in the mouth if thinly sliced.||Very soft and slightly moist. Melts in the mouth, especially when thinly sliced.|
|Color||Dark pink or brownish||Pink|
|Additional Ingredients||Salt||Herbs are optional|
Hopefully, this article has helped you get a better grasp of the Serrano ham vs. prosciutto discussion. A slice of either is delicious and each has a very distinct flavor that can’t be confused with any other type of meat.
If you haven’t tried Serrano ham or prosciutto yet, I suggest you give them a try to see which one you prefer. These dry-cured delicacies make the perfect addition to wine or champagne and are heavenly on top of bread or in pasta!