Charcuterie plates are our bread and butter. Wine, cheese and cured meats are the adult candy, and we partake as often as we can. But the same old salami and prosciutto can leave your taste buds aching for something new.
If that be the case, look no further. Capicola is the thinly sliced twin of prosciutto that offers an entirely different array of flavors. When made right, this cured Italian meat can be a real game-changer in the kitchen.
But what is capicola?
This article is entirely devoted to this question, as well as providing you the necessary information to start making it on your own.
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-What is Capicola?
Capicola is a dried, aged and cured cut from the neck/shoulder meat of a pig. While it can be served at any thickness, it's usually sliced thin due to its bold flavors and chewy texture. The salty nature of capicola makes it pair well with cheese, wine, bread, crackers and fruit.
The first types of capicola were established in Piacenza and Calabria, Italy. Both of these regions are protected by P.D.O., or have "Protected Designation of Origin" status, under the Common Agricultural Policy of the E.U. This is basically a safeguard to protect the reputation of their regional foods and to eliminate unfair competition who might sell non-genuine products. So when you come across Coppa Piacentina, or Capocolla di Calabria, you know it's the real deal.
-Where is Capicola Made Today?
These days, some form of "coppa" is being created in almost every region of Italy. Basilicata, Lazio, Martina Franca, Tuscany and Umbria are all Italian regions that make and distribute their own unique products. Outside of Italy, Capicola is produced on the French Island, Corsica, where the P.D.O. also protects the integrity of the products.
Many U.S. companies now make some form of capicola. You may even be able to find some at your local Italian shop or delicatessen. Finding the distributor can take some time, but once you do, you'll be hooked.
-Capicola vs. Prosciutto
Capicola is a pork cut comparable to the familiar prosciutto or ham. All are typically sliced thin and used in similar dishes. The difference is that prosciutto comes from the hips and thighs of a pig, while capicola comes from the neck and shoulder.
Also, capicola is not usually "brined" as ham is. The brine makes for a juicy ham, but the water absorption can dull the brilliant flavors pork has to offer. Capicola, on the other hand, is kept dry and sliced thin to accentuate flavors that can stand up to things like aged cheeses, red wines and savory olives.
-The Many Names of Capicola
To make life harder, it seems like everyone decided to create their own name for this savory meat. Let's pick apart some of the more common examples.
We know that "Capicola" was developed and named in Calabria, and refers to the cooked, thinly sliced neck and shoulder meat of pork. "Capocolla" is the technical term and is the most direct combination of the actual words; head ("capo") and neck ("colla").
In the Italian region Emilia-Romagna, it was termed "coppa" but only when it was the dry-cured version (not cooked). In the U.S., this type of meat is very popular and considered a delicacy, but "capicola" and "coppa" tend to be used interchangeably, regardless if it's cooked or cured.
There is also "Capicolla ham," invented in 1949 by the M&V provisions company, which is a boiled ham coated in spices. Capicolla ham tends to be much leaner and larger than your typical capicola.
Lastly, a slow-roasted pork shoulder with a mix of tongue and rind is called a "coppa cotta."
Phew. Got all that?
-What is Gabagool?
You know those weird words that you've heard a thousand times, but you've never cared enough to ask what they mean...
The Sopranos, one of the most popular shows of our lifetime, refers to capicola as "Gabagool." For so long, I didn't know what Tony Soprano was talking about. Gabagool sounds like something you might call your kid brother when he refuses to give you the T.V. remote.
Gabagool actually descended from the many different Italian regions that immigrated to the U.S. (specifically New York) and the development of their Italian accents. The hard "c" became "g", "p" became "b", the "o" elongated to "ooh", and like so many other Italian-English pronunciations, the last vowel disappeared.
-How is Capicola Made?
Although there are many ways to prepare and cure this type of pork cut, there are a few traditional ways that indeed make the dish what it is. In Italy, the pigs of choice must be at least eight months old and weigh at least 300 pounds. Typically these "prize pigs" come from large breeds in the south of Italy.
The capicola, "capo" meaning head and "collo" meaning neck, literally describes the muscles running from the pig's neck to the 4th or 5th rib of the shoulder or neck, aka the top part of the loin. This specific part of the pig is extraordinary because of its almost perfect 30% fat to 70% lean ratio, creating a tender and moist delicacy.
The meat from the loin is cut, de-boned, and carefully separated from the fat. The thin, fat layer that covers the surface of the meat should have a 3-4 millimeter thickness to avoid drying out the cut during seasoning.
After the slab is cut from the pig, it is lightly seasoned with red (or sometimes white) wine, garlic, and a variety of herbs and spices depending on the region of Italy. Coriander, fennel, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, pepper, sugar and paprika have all been used in preparing the meat for curation.
The meat is then massaged with a salt rub and left to sit (refrigerated) for anywhere between a few days to a few weeks. This gives the pork ample time to absorb the herbs, spices and salt.
After the salt rest, the meat is washed with water and vinegar, pressed, and covered in black pepper. Again, there are countless ways to spice capicola, but these are some of the more traditional Italian ingredients we've found.
At this point, the capicola is ready to be stuffed into its proper casing for curing.
Traditionally, capicola is enclosed within a carefully spiced pig's diaphragm to proceed into the curing process. Synthetic collagen wrapped sheets or natural dried wrap sheets are other alternatives that can be used. Casings not only hold your meat together, but also act as a barrier for contamination during the drying and curing process.
-Curing the Meat
Now the waiting begins. The slabs are ready to hang and cure into the delicate, complex and flavorful specialty that is capicola.
Many experienced makers recommend hanging the meat for at least 100 days. This number can vary, but the capicola can supposedly hang, uncut, for up to a year and still remain fresh. Once the meat is cut, life is reduced, but it can be kept fresh in a refrigerator for months.
Although there are countless capicola recipes on the web, Charcutaria's video guide is practical and simple in terms of what a standard kitchen can offer.
-Why Does Italy Do it Best?
The reason Italy is so good at making these types of cured meats is because
1) they've been doing it for centuries
2) the dry climate in certain regions allows for proper slow aging with lower chances of mold development.
Arguably, other countries have created their own style of capicola that is just as delicious, if not more, than Italy's. But there's one thing for sure...
No one makes Italian capicola like the Italians.
-What Does Capicola Taste Like?
If you haven't tasted a slice of this delicious meat, do yourself a favor and treat your tastebuds. Capicola can be spicy, and yet so very delicate. It can have a slightly smoky flavor, with a mouth-watering fatty, tender texture, which seems to melt in your mouth. The perfectly balanced amount of visible white fat is vital for softness and texture.
"Hot Capicolla" refers to American-made Coppa. This meat is seasoned with hot red pepper, and the flavor comes with a nice kick. It is considered a gourmet food item and can cost a pretty penny at your local delicatessen, but hot capicolla can also be made at home for a fraction of the cost.
-What Does Capicola Pair with?
What is a Muffuletta, you ask?
A famous sandwich that originated among Italian immigrants in New Orleans, using round, Sicilian sesame bread (also named Muffuletta bread), and a few other prime ingredients. It is a hefty sandwich that contains spicy olive salad and Italian meats and cheeses. Mozzarella, Provolone, Mortadella, Soppressata, Salami, Capicola, and Ham can be piled up to your heart's desire.
Capicola can also be paired with melon and crackers, figs, olives, cheese, roasted peppers, mashed potatoes, bread, a full-bodied red wine, or all of the above. You can wrap dates or asparagus spears in a thin slice and bake slightly, or stuff a chicken breast with it. The possibilities are endless! Charcuterie boards are the best way to impress friends these days, and capicola is a perfect addition.
-What is the Best Type of Capicola?
It is hard to say what the best type of Coppa is. It really depends on each individual's preference, which herbs and spices one likes, and if you like your meat spicy or mild. It's best to taste as many types as you can to figure out what makes you melt into your chair and start praising your Italian ancestors.
If you are a meat lover, you will probably not be disappointed by any capicola you taste. Many might argue that a traditionally made capicola from Italy is the only way to go. I'll let you be the judge.
-The Nutritional Facts of Capicola
The thinly sliced nature of capicola makes it a little deceiving. There is a reason this cured meat is so delicious.
It's full of fat and salt!
A serving size of capicola (28 grams), contains 80 calories, 8 grams of protein, 1 carbohydrate, 5 grams of fat, and a whopping 540 mg of sodium. The amount of sodium is exceptionally high for such a small amount, so it is best enjoyed in moderation. Capicola is definitely a low-carb and Keto friendly snack.
-The Big Conclusion
Now that we've learned some history about this specially cured meat, the process of how it's made, and everything else that goes into preparing it, it's time for you to go out and find some!
Or better yet, try making your own at home.
People have been curing meats for thousands of years, and with the amount of resources available to us now, it won't take more than a trip to your local butcher shop, some elbow grease, and some serious patience. When done correctly, the wait is undoubtedly worth it.
I hope you enjoyed it! Please leave comments below if you have any questions or comments.