Spain is undoubtedly blessed with some top-quality ingredients; it has superb olive oil, anchovies, wonderful cheeses, and some of the best wines in the world. But if I had to choose one single ingredient as the undisputed champion of Spanish gastronomy, it would have to be “Jamón ibérico de bellota”, arguably Spain’s greatest contribution to the world of food.

All hams are not created equal, and it really is important to understand the subtle differences when you enter into the world of Spanish hams. The most basic and therefore the cheapest, is simply called “Jamón Serrano”. The word "Serrano" when translated means sierra or mountain and there are many types of "Jamón Serrano" of variable quality. It is generally made from white pigs—usually Landrace or Duroc breeds, which have white hooves and are typically raised indoors and fed a mixture of grains. The next step up is “Jamón Ibérico”, made from farm-raised, usually crossbred Ibérico pigs that are raised indoors and fed hay. “Jamón Ibérico Cebo de Campo” is the next level above that and is made from crossbred free-range Ibérico pigs that are fed a mixture of acorns and hay giving them a little more flavour.

“Jamón Ibérico de Bellota” is the premier level and the type that has inspired cult-like following throughout the world. It is made from free-range, black-hued and footed Ibérico pigs that feed almost exclusively on acorns. The most highly prized are those from the village of “jabugo" in Huelva, Guijuelo and the provinces of Salamanca and Extremadura.

The "Cerdo Iberico de Bellota" are dark-coloured animals with longer legs and leaner haunches than the domestic pig. They roam free, feeding on acorns in the oak forests of Andalusia and Extremadura. These acorns impart an intense, aromatic flavour and give the finished ham it's unmistakable rich taste and texture. The art of producing top quality hams is a complex process regulated by strict controls as the legs are first salted and then hang to mature for a period of between 18 months to 3 years. The transformation from Iberian pig to world-renowned Jamón de Bellota Ibérico takes about five years: two years fattening the pigs, three years curing the meat in the cellar.

The best hams should have a shiny dark red-brown colour, speckled with tiny white flecks from eating fatty acorns. They should be sliced into almost transparent, wafer-thin rashers from the leg and eaten immediately. A special support, a "Jamonero" is used along with a very sharp knife with a long narrow blade. It should be served at room temperature and needs nothing more than crusty bread to accompany it although you could serve it with some fresh figs when they're bursting with flavour.

Cured hams are used in Spanish cookery to flavour loads of soups and stews, as well as untold vegetable and egg dishes. If you're thinking of buying a whole ham look for the metal stamp and the producers guarantee. Price is normally a good judge of quality, and the very top hams can fetch as much as 200 euros a kilo, it may sound a lot, but we really are talking about one of the great gastronomic delights of the world and that kind of quality and dedication doesn’t come cheap.


Ingredients serves 4

12 slices of good quality Iberian ham

150g mixed salad leaves (rocket, lambs lettuce, watercress, etc)

3 fresh peaches, stoned & cut into large wedges

30g hazelnuts, skinned

Salt & freshly ground pepper

Soft Goats Cheese Dressing

100g soft goats cheese

1tsp sherry vinegar

4 tbsp cream

5tbsp olive oil

1tsp Dijon mustard

Salt & freshly ground pepper

1. For the salad dressing, place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend to a light puree.

2. Place the hazelnuts on a roasting tray and cook in a hot oven for 2 minutes until golden and lightly toasted, being careful not to burn them – they’ll toast very quickly. Glaze the peaches with a little olive oil. Heat a heavy bottomed griddle pan and place the peaches on the grill for 30 seconds on each side or until grill marks appear. The peaches should be warm but still firm. Remove from grill; set aside.

3. Arrange the Iberian ham slices over 4 plates. Top with grilled peaches and salad leaves. Scatter with toasted hazelnuts and a little crumbled goats cheese. Serve with soft goats cheese dressing.


Ingredients - Serves 4

2kl broad beans

250g streaky bacon, diced

250g serrano ham, diced

200ml olive oil

1 meduim onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

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400g butifarra (black pudding)

1 bay leaf

100ml medium sherry

50ml anise brandy

1tbsp. Chopped parsley

12 mint leaves, torn


1. Sweat the onions, crushed garlic, bay leaf and streaky bacon until the onions start to soften. Add the broad beans, sherry and anise.

2. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook gently for about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and place the sliced butifarra on top of the beans then sprinkle with the chopped parsley and torn mint leaves.

3. Replace the lid and cook for another 10 minutes. Season and serve.


Artichokes are incredibly versatile and they make awesome partners for truffles, mushrooms and Serrano ham.

Ingredients - Serves 4

8 globe artichokes hearts, cooked (you could also use good quality artichokes from a jar)

80g Serrano ham, diced

200g mixed wild mushrooms, cleaned & chopped

8 thin slices of fresh truffle (optional)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, crushed

Juice of one lemon

2tbsp chopped chives

120ml dry sherry or white wine

150ml vegetable stock

1tbs flour

4tbs olive oil


1. Quarter the artichokes and scoop out the hairy centre with a spoon.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic until soft and add the wild mushrooms and Serrano ham. Cook for 1-2 minutes and add the flour and stir well.

3. Add the dry sherry and vegetable stock, stir well and cook for about 2 minutes until the sauce thickens. Add the artichokes, lemon juice and warm them through.

4. Scatter with sliced truffles and chopped chives. Season to taste and serve immediately.