It is common to enter into a bar, restaurant or shop in Spain and find some legs of ham hanging from the ceiling, or from a shelf or a bar. The custom of hanging the ham is as Spanish as the ham itself. But do you know why this is done and where this tradition comes from?
Reasons for hanging the ham
You might think this custom of hanging the ham is for the sake of appearance, which is a characteristic of the Spanish, and a tradition that they have made their own, but the truth is that it plays a very important role in the drying process.
We hang the ham because it is the best way to store it: firstly, because whilst it is drying and maturing, the fat gradually drips into the small plastic recipient, shaped like an upside-down hat, which is placed at the bottom of the ham to catch the dripping fat. And, secondly, it allows them to be well-aired and thereby dry perfectly.
The Historical Reason
Apart from the reasons we have just explained, history also tells us that this tradition dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries, when the Jews and Muslims began to be expelled from the Iberian Peninsula.
In order to make everyone believe that they had abandoned their religion and converted to Christianity, those who remained had to come up with ways of convincing their neighbours, so as not to raise suspicions. For this reason the Jews started cooking lard in their homes, so they would smell of it.
In other words, in that era, the only way of avoiding the Inquisition was to demonstrate that they weren’t Jews or Muslims, so it was a good idea to hang a ham in their homes, or businesses, in a place where it would be visible to all.