When the Romans arrived in ancient Iberia, among the many benefits offered by the land, they found that the Iberians had a knack for making ham. As great observers, the Romans soon realised the qualities of this delicacy. It was easy to prepare, had a great capacity for conservation and, above all, it tasted great. The Romans had discovered…. Iberian Ham.
Techniques on general pork grocery and ham in particular came to the peninsula from the Phoenicians. Strabo (I B.C.) tells us so in his book Geographica :
“… most of them are occupied by Kerretanoís, people of Iberian ancestry, among which excellent hams are made, comparable to those made by [the] Cantabrian [people], providing no small income to residents”
It soon became one of the leading Hispanic products exported to Rome but the most valued of all hams were those of Hispania Pompaelo (Pamplona). Yes, a good Spanish ham was expensive and exclusive, reserved only for the upper classes. At the time of the Emperor Diocletian, the price of a ham was set at 20 denarii, a significant amount for food. It was so valued that even ham-shaped coins were made during the age of Augustus and Agripa.
So it is not surprising that after more than two-thousand years of it’s successful production and consumption in every corner of the peninsula, the ham has become a pennant of Spanish gastronomy, as well as being something which, in a country where the people famously disagree on most things, has established itself as a firm favourite among the majority!