On Christmas, ham will always be a winner.

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Christmas is around the corner and a good leg of Spanish cured ham is an essential part of the celebrations. This is why at Agroalimentaria Chico we want to share some practical tips for selecting and cutting your leg of ham.

1.- How to choose it.

In order to select a good leg of ham you have to consider its outer appearance, ranging from its hardness to the shape, homogeneity and the muscle to fat ratio.

Depending on the breed of swine, you will need to take into account the shape of the leg, the hoof and what the label says.

And considering the number of guests we are expecting, we need to decide whether we want a back leg (jamón) or a front leg (paletilla).

2.- The next step is cutting the ham.


Serrano ham, whether it be from fattened pigs, acorn fed or Iberian ham, is all cut in the same way. The utensils you need are the ham support, the long, fine ham knife, a small knife with a rigid blade and pointed tip, a chive knife and a sharpening steel.

Placing the ham

You can start cutting the ham from either of its parts: the maza or rounder side and the babilla or contramaza, the leaner side.

The maza is the larger and tastier part of the ham. If you want to eat the ham when it is at its tastiest, it’s best to start cutting from the maza side. To do this, you need to place the ham on the support with the hoof turned upwards.

If, on the other hand, you plan to carve away from the ham over several days or even weeks, it’s best to leave the maza for the last, that way it doesn’t get too cured. In this case you will have to place the ham on the support with the hoof turned downwards.

Cleaning the ham leg
  • We find the hock, close to the hoof and a few centimetres behind the joint, and there we make an oblique cut with the pointed knife.
  • We make a wedge shaped incision to remove the skin and fat from that area.
  • We remove the hard hide, also the skin and the yellow fat, but only from the parts that we will be eating in the next couple of days–that way it won’t go dry and will remain tender. Do not leave any of the yellow fat, because it would give the ham a bitter, rancid taste.
  • Cutting the ham. Cut it horizontally, parallel to the femur. Start cutting fine slices of ham from the top part, cutting from the hoof to the tip of the ham.The first slice of ham should be cut from the closest part to us and away, towards the hoof. That will get us started straight, and the rest of the slices will be cut the other way around, starting near the hoof. Once you’ve finished carving away from the maza side, you can turn the leg over and start cutting from the leaner side, the babilla.

3.- Finally, here is how you should store the ham.

We should make it a point to not let much time elapse between cutting the ham and eating it. If more than 24 hours go by, it’s best to wrap up the ham so that it does not lose any of its properties.

The leg of ham should be kept at room temperature on the ham support. Do not freeze ham because that will ruin the texture and flavour.

If you follow these tips, you will be on course to succeed with your leg of Spanish ham this Christmas.