Jamon for (espero!) not quite dummies
I have been sampling the wonders of the hams at Mas in the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid. However, I have been overwhelmed at the choices. I can figure out the difference between Iberico and Serrano and at least try to make a cost/benefit calculation on whether bellota is worth it. But there seem to be many other subtle distinctions that escape both me and my Spanish (and my google skills). Does anyone have a good web site on the subtle differences between the various ibericos? Or, is it like ser/estar, one has to be born here to get all the subtleties?
The good stuff is definitely worth it. First off there are different cuts: jamón (ham), paleta (front leg), lomo (loin). Don't discount the deliciousness of the less expensive paleta and loin.
Then there's the difference between the white pigs which go into jamón serrano/curado and the iberian pigs that are used for ibéricos. These completely different animals and the flavor of their meat and the composition of their fat is very, very different (with the cerdo ibérico being much more flavorful and marbled).
Then there's the diet and habits of the Iberian pigs. Some are fed grain (de pienso), some are fed a mixture of acorns and natural freerange food and grain (de recebo), and then there are those that are fed a diet that is exclusively acorns (de bellota). Within the bellota category, there are differences as to how free the pigs were, how long and where the hams were cured, etc.
If you want to try some of the best bellota look for Sánchez Romero Carvajal 5J from Jabugo (La Leonesa in Antón Martín market has it) or Joselito Gran Reserva. Get 100 grams. Then you can work your way down from there to find the stuff you like the best at the best price. We usually go for jamón de recebo. It's still excellent and we can afford a whole leg of it without taking out a small loan... For lomo, we splurge on the bellota. It's a lot cheaper than the ham and I like it almost as much.
Ser and estar gets easier...