But why is this practice used and where does this ancestral custom come from? Today we will review some information in order to answer this question regarding one of the many interesting characteristics of ham. After all, it's practically a rule that around any precious treasure there are various hidden secrets, and some may seem almost unbelievable when we evaluate them within the context of these modern times.
Below, we'll be sharing the main reasons why, since ancient times, Iberian ham has been hung from the ceilings of pantries, cellars and other rooms, impregnating them with its peculiar aroma.
The Holy Inquisition and its historical share of responsibilityIf we delve into the history and traditions of Iberian ham, we find that the use or custom of hanging the ham has both anthropological and cultural roots. To explore these roots, we have to go back to the Iberian peninsula in the 10-14th century after Christ, when the modern states of Spain and Portugal hadn't come into existence.
At that time, Christians and Jews lived together on the Iberian Peninsula. After the expulsion of the Jews in the 15th century, those who continued to inhabit the peninsular territory were forced to convert to Christianity. To understand this, we need to situate ourselves in the context of a city recently conquered by the armies of Christianity, in which the Christian community becomes dominant and thus begins to impose its customs as a palpable way of verifying its dominance.
Bearing in mind what we've just described, a question arises that we will try to answer next:
How did the Jews convince the Holy Inquisition that they were truly and effectively converted? The answer is simple and at the same time interesting: by putting pork everywhere - on their plates, using lard to cook with and even visibly hanging hams at the entrance to their homes. In fact, one of the explanations of why the Jews were called "Marranos" is that in order to hide their religion, they started cooking pork at home so that whoever passed by would catch a whiff of the smell of pork and this smell would wipe away any doubt as to their religion.
In other words, the reason for having a ham hanging from the roof of an establishment, or in a visible place within the home, goes beyond a way of merely storing it. It proved that pork was consumed in that home and that therefore no Jew lived there. It was therefore evident that the people who lived in those houses were Christians, not Jews, escaping from the actions and reprisals of the much feared Inquisition.
Elimination of moisture and excess fat from the hamWe now currently know that the ham is hung so that it is well-ventilated and better conserved. By hanging the Iberian hams from the ceiling, it is easier to air them out and the moisture from the piece gradually disappears, until any excess fat is eliminated.
Experts in ham recommend keeping the ham in a dry, dark place with good ventilation so that all of its flavour and the right dryness is maintained. In fact, hams are also hung from ceilings in rooms and cellars during their drying and ageing process; this means that when the pieces begin to sweat, the fat slides off towards one end.
Just like how we've seen that hams are usually hung from the ceiling, we may have also noticed that these pieces come with a type of plastic hat placed on one end, which is called a "chorrera" or umbrella, whose main function is to collect the excess fat that the ham releases, managing to keep both the piece of ham and the ground in good condition.
After reading this article, where we have tried to outline the reasons why ham is often hung, including the historical bases that go back centuries and centuries, it's clear that this custom is truly the best way to keep a piece of ham in excellent condition. We therefore invite you to put this custom and what you've learned into practice with one of our very own exquisite pieces of ham.