Friday, 27 April 2012

Study of the benefits of Spanish Ham in a group of nuns

The Spanish doctors Avelino Ortiz and Enrique Macia, started a study in 1991 about the health benefits of the Spanish ham (or Jamon). It was really known in Spain due to they used a group of cloistered nuns as one of the studied population.

The study revealed that “when people follow a balanced diet, Iberico pork is not detrimental at all, and help to keep blood lipid levels in reliable figures for cardiovascular health. Eating Iberico pork also improves Vitamin C levels (antioxidant) and decreases the possibility of thrombosis”.

The study was conducted with a thesis, over three different groups: 19 post-menopausal women, 18 men and 18 women with over 250mg cholesterol levels, and 27 cloistered nuns.

We can find the conclusion that Iberico pork (because of oleic acid) and Spanish Jamon, Iberico or Serrano, are really healthy and particularly suitable for diets with hyperlipidaemia and for people who are suffering arteriosclerosis. Pork and Jamon are part of the famous Mediterranean diet.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Types of Spanish Iberico and Serrano Ham

Jamon (Spanish for ham) Iberico or Serrano is in addition to caviar,foie and black truffles, the fourth finest and valued flavour in the world, as ensuring the best chefs and experts. The exclusivity of this food, only made in some regions of Spain, perfect because of its climate, tradition and know-how, makes it one of the most sought after and asked for. A truly gourmet delight.

But, what do we know about the different kinds of Jamon? What is exactly a Jamon Iberico or a Jamon Serrano? Well, the biggest difference is in the feeding of the animals, and the types of pigs.

Mainly we can find two breeds of pigs in Spain:

Black Iberian: This legendary and select race has many qualities, including a great capacity to accumulate fat under its skin and between the muscular fibres. This is what produces the typical white streaks that make it special. It’s the only breed used to makeIberico ham. Only in some cases, pigs grow and live freely in the dehesa (meadow), where they can run and do exercise, what is perfect for the hams.

White pig: is a cross between Large White and Landrace (mother side) and Duroc breed (father side). These races allow to obtaining quality hams with low levels of dietary cholesterol (high in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fat). It’s used to make Serrano ham.

So, from the back leg of a Black Iberian pig we can make:

-        Jamon Iberico de Bellota(Spanish for acorn): is the top grade of Spanish ham. Bellota means that the pig has been fed exclusively on a diet of acorns and herbs. This feeding gives the hams a very rich flavour and smooth texture. These hams need to be cured for at least 24 months. The world most famous brand is Joselito.

-        Jamon Iberico de Recebo: the pig has been fed a mixed diet including both acorns and compound feed (cereals mainly). The hams take some flavour of the acorn, but with less intensity.

-        Jamon Iberico de Cebo: pigs raised in a compound feed diet. Anyway, the breed makes an excellent ham even without the acorn diet, with a very smooth texture and good flavour.  

And from the back leg of a White Spanish pig we can make:

-          Jamon Serrano: this indicates that the pig has grown (and the ham has been made) in a mountain range, so is used to indicate a wide range of hams. The salting and curing process is the same as for the Iberico ham, but usually for less time. Flavours range from mild and full flavoured, excellent as well. Jamon Serrano is the staple of most Spanish families and restaurants and accounts for 90% of ham production in Spain.

-          Jamon from Teruel: this refers to a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin by EU Authorities) type of ham made exclusively in Teruel, a region with perfect conditions, including climate, for raising pigs and curing process. Jamon from this area has an special flavour, highly valued and appreciated by top Spanish chefs, who often use it in their recipes and restaurants. PDO Council lays down rules that ensure the high quality of this ham. There are really strict rules for growth and feeding pigs, for the curing process, even for the altitude (800 m.a.s.l.) and the geographical area at which the hams are to be made. There are many brands and small companies of Jamon from Teruel, but undoubtedly, the most recognized for its quality and special flavour is Antonio Mata.

And what is a Paleta? Simple: a Jamon is made from the back leg of a pig. The Paleta or Paletilla is made from the front leg (shoulder cut). Obviously the Jamon has more meat than the Paleta because the size difference, as it’s smaller (but less expensive).

We hope helped to tell the different types of Jamon and its qualities for your next purchase

Friday, 13 April 2012

Spanish foods: Cheese from Zamora

Spain has a long tradition of producing cheese. Many cheeses are made in Spain, some of them are internationally renowned, and also there are many PDO. Throughout the entire country there is a wide variety of cheeses made from the milk of cows, goats and sheep. Some of them are manufactured from single types of milk of sheep, goat or cow and a few are mixtures of different milks.

There is a huge variation in the presentation of the cheeses, from the hard, dark-skinned, to the soft, small and tender. The cheeses are made in a wide variety of styles including fresh, matured, semi-matured, and from different types of milk such as pasteurised, unpasteurised or creamy. Therefore, some of them are inoculated with moulds to make blue varieties.

We are going to analyze and describe some characteristics of each producing area in different posts, but today we want to talk about Cheese from Castilla y Leon, the largest region of Spain.

Castilla y Leon is one of the oldest regions of Spain, as it was from where it started the Spanish reconquest in the Middle Ages. Many products are made on the traditional way. Its cuisine is based on roast and cooked meats, most notably roast lamb, black pudding (morcilla), legumes, the humble and great garlic soup, and red, rosé, claret and white PDO wines.

But definitely, there are two notably foods in this area: Jamon and CheeseSpecifically cheese from Zamora, a province of Castilla y Leon, is really known. This is a hard cheese which is typically aged about alt least 6 months. The cheeses are turned often and rubbed with olive oil, giving the cheese its characteristic dark colour. The secret of its flavour is the breed of sheep, the ‘Churra’: small, scruffy and predominant Castilian sheep.

The cheese is hard and nutty, but creamy, sweet and savory flavour. Some of them are a bit spicy. So similar to the famous Manchego cheese, its shape is cylindrical with a distinctive zig zag pattern.

Chesees from Zamora are protected and controlled by its PDO (Protected Designation of Origin by the EU) which specifies its production, ingredients, and maturation.

Blue Label – Fresh: short maturation, milk-white colour.

Green Label – Semi-matured: melting in the mouth. From 3 to 5 months of curing process.

Black Label – Matured: thick and bit dry, but pleasant flavour, its colour is ivory-white. The curing process takes from 7 to 9 months.

Burgundy label – Aged or Reserva: honey colour, stong and aromatic, reminiscent of sheeps flavour. More than 11 months of maturation.

Cheese in Spain is served sliced as a tapa, usually together with Jamon, sausages and other cold meats. But it’s quite ordinary to see a group of friends sitting at the table and tasting different kids of cheese. The Spanish are really good cheese producers, one of our greatest treasures indeed. But above all, we are excellent tasters not only of Spanish cheese, but of the whole world.

In the coming weeks, we will continue talking about cheeses from other parts of Spain, as Manchego, Spanish most valued cheese. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Tapa recipe: Spanish Jamon Croquettes



Note that this recipe is for 6 croquetas de jamon, as an appetizer or tapa. Croquettes, of jamon, cheese, cod or chicken are a quite common in Spanish bars.
Heat the 8 Tbsp olive oil in a small pan on medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 3 minutes. Add the milk and the chicken broth gradually. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until the sauce is thickened and smooth. All these steps, stirring constantly.
Then, add the minced Serrano jamon. Continue to cook for 2-3 minutes on low heat, continuing to stir, and remove from heat.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes and refrigerate by 3 hours until mixture is cold. Scatter the breadcrumbs into a wide bowl. And beat the eggs with water in another one. Cover your hands in flour, then divide the mixture into 1-inch balls and set on a plate.
Pour the olive oil in a frying medium pan and heat it (really hot). Then dip the croquettes in the beaten egg and coat with crumbs by rolling in bowl. Place the croquettes in the hot oil and fry quickly, turning all the time. When golden (be sure not to overcook them), remove the croquettes and set them in a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.
The best ham or Jamon you can use for this recipe, because of its fantastic features, is the Ham from Teruel PDO by the EU authorities.