When in Spain the best souvenir to bring back home Spain would be Spanish jamon (pronounced hamon) or cured ham. They love their jamon in Spain and they have it for breakfast as well as tapas through the day with drinks. There is even a retail outlet in Madrid called Jamon Museum.
There are various grades of Spanish jamon. Jamon Serrano is the everyday version. It is made from white pigs reared indoors and is named after the Sierra region where they come from. These pigs are grain-fed.
Then there is the Recebo Iberian jamon made with grass-fed free-range pigs. At least 50 percent of the lineage of these pigs should be Spanish.
The champagne of Spanish jamon is the Jamon Iberico Bellota made from black Iberico pigs. These pigs are fed on a diet of only acorns (bellota) for the last three years of their lives and are reared in the open. The ham is air cured for 3 to 8 years before being sold and the cost depends on the vintage of the meat. The rich diet of acorn gives the meat an incredibly fatty marbling. Connoisseurs say that you can get the taste of acorn in the ham. The Serrano jamon is much lighter in colour in comparison to the Iberico Bellota. Low quality jamon can be over-salted to mask impurities.
There are specialized ham cutters in Spain who are experts in cutting out thin slices of jamon. Using a machine to cut Jamon Iberico Bellota is considered to be sacrilege.
The Iberico Bellota is the most expensive of the lot and is considered to be a rare indulgence among the Spaniards. Departmental store Iberico Jamon Bellota starts at about 10 e per 100 g while you could get Serrano ham for 5 e per 100 g.
During Christmas the Spaniards gift a leg of Iberico acorn-fed jamon to special contacts such as government officials and business clients as a mark of respect.
Departmental stores such as El Cortes Ingles offer vacuum-sealed packs of jamon which are easy to carry. You also get them at the Madrid and Bacelona airports at prices which compare favourably with city prices. Or you can just head to the local tapas bar and order a plate of jamon.
Kalyan Karmakar authors the popular award winning blog, Finely Chopped and is an authority on the food of Mumbai. His extensive knowledge of the city's food scene has been featured in publications such as Femina, Mumbai Mirror and BCC Good Food. He was one of the founding critics of EazyDiner's Mumbai team.