Spain is rich in history and culture, with many age-old traditions still being honoured to this day. This is quite noticeable in Spanish cuisine, where many recipes are unchanged from past generations. Additionally, the way that food is produced and prepared can be as important as the food itself. Traditional Spanish cuisine includes many delicious and elaborate dishes but Spaniards get the most pleasure from something quite simple such as jamón ibérico.
You can find jamón ibérico in all tapas bars, restaurants, and most Spanish homes, this delicious cured ham is a true crowd-pleaser. This isn’t your average deli ham, this cured and salty meat is an experience for the senses.
Why does jamón ibérico hang from the ceiling?
No doubt you have noticed legs of jamón ibérico hanging from the ceilings of tapas bars, restaurants, and markets in Spain. The distinct, salty aroma hits your nose as soon as you enter and your mouth instantly begins to water. While legs of Spanish ham hanging from the ceiling have certainly become emblematic of tapas bars, how did this tradition begin? As it turns out, this custom dates way back in Spanish history and has cultural importance. This tradition’s roots began hundreds of years ago and has carried through to the present.
Origins of the Custom
Present day Spain is a melting pot of different cultures, and it’s known that many Spaniards have a mix of European, Jewish, and Muslim heritage. Between the 10th and 16th centuries, Spain was under different leaders and saw many cultural changes. Even though there were a mix of peoples and cultures during this time, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they all co-existed peacefully. With the rise of the Spanish Inquisition and Catholic monarchs, other religions and cultures began to experience resentment. The Moors were run out of Spain and the Jewish community were persecuted as well.
Practicing Jews do not eat pork or meat from the pig. The Christian Spaniards knew this and therefore hung ham and other pork products visibly in their homes. This could quickly identify them as not being Jewish to the passer by. Jamón ibérico hung from the ceiling of an establishment could serve as a warning that Jews were not welcome.
Modern Day Tradition
Hanging jamón ibérico from the ceiling began as a cultural tradition centuries ago and still endures today. Why is this, though? Modern Spain is a melting pot of cultures from all over the world and for the most part, people peacefully co-exist. However, hanging jamón ibérico from the ceiling has a practical purpose today. When ham hangs from the ceiling, it dries out and intensifies the cured flavour. Proper ventilation ensures a
high-quality and delicious tasting leg of ham. You will notice that most jamón ibérico that hangs has a little paper cup at the end called a chorrera. Meaning “little hat,” the chorrera collects the fat that drips from the ham while it dries out.
Hanging jamón ibérico from the ceiling began for cultural and historical purposes but now is a great technique for achieving perfectly-cured ham. Walk into any traditional tapas bar or market in Spain and you will be sure to see them hanging and curing to perfection.