It is uncanny the amount of ham that is not only eaten but displayed in this country. It is truly a religious icon of staggering power. To not eat ham in this country I believe would be social suicide. Spaniards are the largest consumers of ham in the world, it’s estimated that each Spaniard eats about 5 kilo’s of cured ham per year, that’s over 11 pounds! The last few days as we went out for tapa’s I imagined myself with my head face down on the table raising my hand in the air mumbling, “no más jamon, no más jamon”. I definitely appreciate the intense curing process involved, the many different types of ham and how differently the livestock is fed. Most of it is really great tasting, in fact I’ve read that Spain’s ham is some of the best and nutritious in the world . . . but every meal?
In any case I researched what the great fascination is between this country and it’s ham and sure enough, it dates back to some religious origins. The history of ham dates back as far as 1300 B.C. when the Celts arrived in what is now Spain and ham was so important to their survival that they had granite statues of pigs made and used as territorial markers and tombstones. The Muslims ruled Spain between 711 A.D. and 1492 and in the Quran it is strictly forbidden to consume pigs. However, when the Christians regained control of the region and kicked out the Jews and Moors, it was again popular and symbolic to eat pork to display openly that you were not a Jew or a Moor. It was another way for the Spanish Inquisition to monitor who was not converted to Christianity because they refused to eat pork. If the convertor did eat pork they sometimes still didn’t believe you really converted and you were arrested for questioning and many times worse. This is a symbol of cultural strength, defiance and fortitude over hundreds of years and so proudly displayed throughout the streets of Spain. So basically some five-hundred years later and Spain is still shoveling down ham like there’s no tomorrow.