Swines and spanish serrano ham have been and still are one of the most characteristic elements of Spain, a basic representative of Spanish culture and present, most of the times, in our dish and plates. The reason for this success may be the fact that humans make the most of this animal (the snout, the ears, the feet…). For a long while, eating pork was considered a sign of nobility and honor and everything connected with its sacrifice and preparation was very distinguishing. There are different swine species: the white, the Iberian, or some mixed species used to obtain different products.
The pig has always been living close to the human being ever since the beginnings, satisfying each and every need the humans had. This way it became something quite essential for anyone´s pantry. During the Celtic ages, the pig was a fundamental element for living, considering it as being indispensible for their alimentation.
The salting and curing knowledge of spanish serrano ham and other parts of the pig, which are used nowadays, were acquired in ancient times, when humans looked for ways for well conserving the meat. These types of elaboration are still used today, but they are also continuously improved, with the scope of obtaining a better final product (for example, in ancient days people used to salt the entire animal, not parts of it).
Ages ago, people used to salt the entire animal
In Spain one can find geographical zones where the serrano ham tradition is much more profound, such as in Teruel province, which is one of the most significant. This province is the first to achieve the Designation of Origin - DO "Denominacion de Origen" for the serrano ham: "Jamón de Teruel" Designation of Origin.
Even before the arrival of the Romans at the Iberian Peninsula, the population living on the peninsula had already been growing large quantities of swines (and of spanish serrano hams). The Iberians were also trading olive oil, wine and, of course, serrano ham and cold cut meat. These activities were yielding enough returns. The pig was something so valuable that during the age of Augustus and Agripa some ham-shaped Roman coins were created. Some pig images were also discovered on consular medals which were used as military sign of some legion - Celtic and Pre-romanic Gaelic ones.
Ever since ancient times pigs have been playing an essential part in the alimentation of humans
During Roman times, the pig slaughter was performed by the cook or "coquus" (who used to be a prestigious slave), but then they specialized the proces; finally, some very specialized cooks, named "vicarius supra cenas", were in charge with the slaughter. The serrano ham was the part of the pig that most valued these cooks, and it was consumed only by the high class of society. But they did not only eat serrano ham; they also consumed some other parts of the swine, cold cut meat or salted pork meat, such as loins, heads, chops and pork fat.
The Romans elaborated and produced serrano hams for ages. In many works and books they talk about the serrano ham and the ways to elaborate it - one can see they were following more or less the same stages people use today. Hams were also produced in the ancient Tarraco (Tarragona), in Conesa was discovered a fossilized serrano ham which was of about 2000 years.
Once the Roman era had finished, the Visigothic ages came, with the Mediaeval era. The monastries and the convents were the places where the gastronomy was widely preserved, the monks were looking after the vegetable gardens and each year they used to raise a pig. This way there were always aliments in their pantries, either for the clergy or for the travellers passing by, or for the people living in the monastery.
During the 12th and 13th centuries, Spain was advancing towards the South, which allowed the livestock to move towards the Southern areas, where it would have more meadows and woods for its feeding, so there could be detected a small growth. The country-persons could raise swines more and more every day, although in a more limited way. Little by little, the pig slaughters and the serrano hams productions within villages was something more common.
The stockbreeding was spreading towards the South, where there were more meadows and forests
During the 15th and 16th centuries, cookbooks began to be written, where we are told how they used to eat in certain societies, their habits and their food customs.