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How to eat Spain’s delicious cured meats like a local

Spain’s cured meat-producing tradition is a hallmark of its culinary culture – but you don’t need to fly overseas to experience its magic

©ICEX/Toya Legido
©ICEX/Toya Legido
The incredible Spanish ingredients that should be staples in your pantry
The incredible Spanish ingredients that should be staples in your pantry

4 mins read time   |   Written by Kayleigh Giles

From sun-drenched olives and rich cheeses, to deep and intense preserves, Spain is home to a range of delicious produce. And while each offering is beautifully unique, there is one key ingredient that lies at the heart of all Spanish foods: passion.

Cured meat, of course, is one of Spain’s most popular exports, and nothing captures the essence of Spain’s gastronomy quite like the vast and varied selection it produces. The food preservation and flavouring process that involves using salt, and usually other spices, to draw out moisture and cure meat is a longstanding tradition in Spain – one that is steeped in geography, history, culture and even religion. To this day, the country remains the largest producer and consumer of ham, without having compromised its centuries-old, artisan cooking methods.

If you’d like to bring an authentic taste of Spain to your dinner table, Serrano and Iberico hams are undoubtedly the way to go. But how can you tell if you’re getting the best quality, and what should you enjoy them with?

Serrano ham

One of the country’s most popular cured meats, this soft and sweet ham derives mainly from white pigs, particularly the Duroc, Landrance and Large White breeds. When cut, a good Serrano ham will be shiny in appearance, though its colour can range from a subtle pink to a purplish red. The texture should be firm and the flavour intense, though its slight saltiness should never dominate your palette.

For a refreshing hit, try accompanying the Serrano with perfectly ripe tomatoes or melon, or use it as a garnish for cold soups like salmorejo (a traditional Spanish purée consisting of tomato and bread). When it comes to wine, try one of Spain’s crisp whites, such as the Albariño and Verdejo varieties, which should be stocked at your local supermarket.

Iberico ham

Renowned for its inimitable flavour, there’s a reason this cured meat is often labelled the finest in the world. Attained from the noble Iberico black pig, which grazes on acorns from the ancient oak pastures of Spain, this Spanish delicacy is beautifully rich and nuanced in taste. The meat is dark red and well marbled, and usually served in paper-thin slices. On first bite, you’ll detect sweet and nutty notes, though as the fat melts away on your tongue, it unlocks aromas that are rich and complex.

To eat this cherished meat with anything else would be considered a crime in Spain, but an accompanying fine wine is always welcomed! The bold reds of Ribera del Duero, Toro and Rioja complement Iberico perfectly and are all available to buy in the UK.


Not only matured by time and air, this popular Spanish pork charcuterie product gets its delectable flavours from the salt and spices that are added, its most distinguished ingredient being pimentón – a bright red powder that’s obtained from drying and crushing certain varieties of pepper. While chorizo is delicious eaten on its own, it’s a staple ingredient in a number of quintessentially Spanish dishes, such as the well-known fabada (a bean stew made with Asturian faba beans), patatas a la riojana (a simple dish made with potatoes and bell peppers) and cocido, a hearty chickpea stew with ingredients that tend to vary slightly by region.