Both jamón ibérico and paleta ibérica are phenomenal delicacies enjoyed all throughout Spain. Though you may be more familiar with jamón, both are truly exquisite and have been made with the same great care throughout decades of gastronomic tradition. Jamón and paleta also come from the same animal: the prized Ibérico pig with its perfect marbling, raised sustainably in the Spanish meadows on a healthy diet of acorns.
Jamón and paleta are used in similar ways in the Spanish kitchen as well— strewn onto scrambled eggs, sprinkled onto cold soups like salmorejo, or fried into croquettes. And of course, both shine all on their own.
Despite these similarities, there are actually a few differences between jamón and paleta. They are two distinct products that showcase some of the incredible differences throughout the Ibérico pig, from nose to tail. Do you know what sets them apart? Read on to find out.
What’s the difference between jamón ibérico and paleta ibérica?
When it comes to processing, jamon and paleta actually go through the same steps, from salting, to drying, to curing. This artisanship develops a spectacular product, creating the unique textures and flavors these two delicacies are known for throughout the world. However, there are a few subtle differences throughout each of these processes:
Front vs. back leg
The main difference between jamón and paleta is the actual location on the pig. The paleta comes from the front legs or the shoulder of the pig, while the jamón comes from the back legs, or the hams. The location is important because it contributes to other differences in each of the pieces, from weight to fat content.
Size and weight
Jamón legs are slightly rounder and wider than paletas, which tend to be more elongated and thin. The jamón leg weighs anywhere from around 14 pounds to almost 19 pounds, as it also includes the hip bone. Paletas, on the other hand, usually weigh around 9 to 12 pounds. The jamón legs are also longer than the paleta legs, measuring around 35 inches compared to the paleta’s 24 to 30 inches.
The paleta and jamón also produce different yields because of their size and makeup. The paleta actually has more fat, and the bone (a large shoulder blade) makes up 40% of the overall weight. This makeup of high fat and large bones reduces the overall space and quantity of meat. The jamón, on the other hand, has less fat and a thin hip bone that only makes up 30% of the overall weight. This ratio is why you’re able to get more out of the jamón leg than the paleta.
The curing period is determined primarily by the size of the leg. Since paletas and hams are slightly different in size, their curing periods are also different. The hind legs for example, are not only larger in size but are also stronger and more muscular, requiring a longer curing period between 15 and 36 months. The front legs, of course, aren’t as muscular and the meat sits closer to the bone. This proximity means the meat and marbling absorbs the salt quicker, creating a beautifully deep red color. It also requires a shorter curing period of just 12 to 24 months.
These subtle differences translate into unique flavors— it’s why some cured meat lovers may have preferences for jamón or paleta. Of course, it isn’t that one cut is better than the other. With such a high quality product, both are exceptional! The discrepancies are simply dependent on the palate of the eater.
Jamón is said to have softer and more complex flavors due to its longer curing period in which these flavors have time to develop. Jamón is ideal for someone who has never tried cured Iberian meats and is a total crowd pleaser. On the other hand (or leg!) paleta has more fat and a stronger, more intense flavor due to this higher fat content. Yet it is just as loved and celebrated throughout Spain.
Carving a jamón versus a paleta is also unique because of the pieces’ anatomical differences. In general, the jamón is easier to cut because it has more meat and less bone, while the paleta has somewhat of an “S” shape that makes it more complicated to carve. Knowing these differences is key to ensuring jamon masters and people like you at home are properly cutting paletas and hams. The size of each slice should be adequate enough to sit nicely on the palate, and thin enough to detect all of those delicious flavors.
There’s no right or wrong with cured Ibérico pork
The differences between jamón ibérico and paleta ibérica are subtle and derive mostly from their shape, size, and anatomical makeup. The great news is that you simply can’t go wrong. Despite these differences, each has their own special quality and is equally delicious in its own special way— especially when it comes to Ibéricos COVAP. Here in the Valley of Los Pedroches, we pride ourselves on outstanding quality and excellence, caring for our animals from day one so they produce the best possible meat available.
Ready to taste the differences between jamón and paleta? Order a pack of each and decide for yourself. Just don’t be surprised if you can’t make up your mind.