Serrano ham is one of those delicacies that knows how to start the party. Revered for its depth of flavour and the artisanal degree of the curing process, it is rich in flavour with a chewy texture, and distinct ham-y aroma.
As with all meat products, if it’s bad then could. So how can you tell the difference between a good slice and one that will make you ill?
How to Tell if Serrano Ham is Bad
Serrano ham that’s been successfully cured and in prime condition is easy to spot; a deep and rich dark shade of pinky-red. It has the same hallmark dark shade of red as salami or an overly ripe tomato.
The fat is nice and white, clean with no specks or streaks, the cured muscle can show streaks of this cured fat marbling through the meat, and that’s fine.
However, Serrano that has gone bad will have a slightly different colour. Instead of rosy-red and white fat, the colour of the muscle, which should be bright red, will instead be a dark almost purple-red, and the fat that should be white will instead be a creamy, pale yellow.
Obviously, as part of the air curing and processing, the outside of Serrano ham becomes discoloured due to exposure. It’s ill-advised to consume this meat, instead only eat the cured ham from underneath the skin.
Serrano that’s in prime condition will have a fresh ham smell, thoroughly appetising and mouth-watering.
But, Serrano ham that is bad, well, it’s going to stink, like rotten meat. Because that’s what will have happened to it. The curing process can fail, and in failing the meat partially rots, and this is what you’ll smell.
Smooth and clingy, kind of like a piece of cling film. Serrano ham that’s freshly cut from the joint will be kind of dry but also feel slightly clingy to your fingers as it flops onto them, but there should be no stickiness!
Serrano ham that has spoiled, gone bad, however, is likely to be slimy and sticky, with a sort of ooze that can linger on your finger.
Ham, in its best and most ham-iest of states, that’s the best way to describe Serrano.
It has a depth of porky-ham flavour that’s undeniable, not so much that it makes you feel ill, but in the sense that a little goes a long way. You don’t need a lot of Serrano to know you’ve enjoyed some of the world’s best traditional cured ham!
Sadly, when Serrano goes bad, it tastes bitter and rancid, and the only mouth it should be going near is the bin! Do not eat Serrano that’s gone bad, check the other signs before even thinking about eating your ham, as it can cause serious illness, including food poisoning.
During the curing process, specifically the air curing part, it’s quite likely that mould spores will grow on the exterior of the ham joint. This is perfectly natural and to be expected.
However, once sliced, you should not see any grey, green, blue, or black discolouration on the ham. Should you see anything in this colour scale, the ham should be discarded.
How Long Does Serrano Ham Last
Much like the duration of the curing, your Serrano ham can last for months! Even when you cut into it, the ageing process continues, and the depth of flavour will continue to develop.
However, unlike almost all other foods, Serrano ham has its own life span and storage requirements (discussed in the next section), and failing to follow these can lead to your ham spoiling!
How Long Does Serrano Ham Last in the Fridge
You should not store your whole Serrano ham in the fridge. Serrano ham, joint-in, should not be refrigerated, ever. Keeping a Serrano ham in this state will lead to spoilage, and you can expect the ham to go bad within weeks.
Sliced ham, in a sealed packet from a supermarket, should be kept in a fridge for 3-4 days, or as directed on the ‘Use By’/’Best Before’ stamp. Do not exceed this recommendation, as food poisoning may occur.
How Long Does Serrano Ham Last in the Freezer
Whilst many people freeze their pre-sliced Serrano ham for 1-2 months, it’s recommended not to do this by Serrano ham (or Iberico as it’s also known) producers.
The makers of these hams will shudder in horror if freezing is mentioned, owing to the sub-zero temperatures damaging the delicate structure of the meat, and the temperatures destroying the meat’s flavour. However, if you choose to do this, it is perfectly safe, but the flavour may be affected.
How Long Does Serrano Ham Last on the Countertop
According to Serrano producers, keeping these hams on your countertop (out of direct light, in a cool and well-ventilated spot), your ‘joint-in’ Serrano will last for weeks, or even months.
It is recommended that the joint-in, or bone-in, hams be kept on a hanging stand. However, once cut into, these joints need to be cared for with specific attention – see below.
How To Store Serrano Ham
As you may have gathered from the above section, keeping your Serrano ham is a bit different than regular sandwich ham. For one, as a whole ham, it doesn’t go in the fridge or the freezer. So how do you store your Serrano ham?
How To Store Serrano Ham in the Fridge
It should only be stored in the fridge in pre-sliced vacuum-sealed packets, and preferably straight from the supermarket.
Do not store home-sliced Serrano ham in the fridge, as it’s both unnecessary, and unwise – the flavour will be affected and the ham will spoil if you don’t eat it promptly.
How To Store Serrano Ham in the Freezer
As mentioned, Serrano/Iberico ham producers do not recommend freezing as a preservation method. However, it is perfectly safe to do so, but the flavour will be compromised.
Keep in air-tight containers, preferably with thick layers of plastic or other barriers between the ham and the harsh temperature.
How To Store Serrano Ham on the Countertop
This is the preferred location according to producers, for whole bone-in joints. In this case, the use of a hanging stand is strongly encouraged. Do not, however, keep sliced ham on the countertop!
To Sum Up
Serrano ham is a delicacy and should be enjoyed at room temperature, and this is also how bone-in ham joints should be kept.
However, keep your supermarket pre-sliced ham in sealed packets in the fridge, and if your ham smells bad, or looks weird with strange colours or a mottled appearance, don’t eat it.