Capicola/Cappacuolo: What Is It & How To Make

Cappacuolo, which is also known as Capicola, Cappocola, Capicollo, and gabbagool, is a beautiful thinly sliced cured meat from the pork neck or shoulder. The delicious salami originates from Italy, where it is a common part of the antipasto platters as well as on charcuterie boards in the restaurants.

Read on to find out more about Cappacuolo, how it is made, and how it is best served.

What is Cappacuolo?

what-is-cappacuolo

The word Capicola comes from the Italian Capo (head) and Collo (neck). It is a cured meat that is made from the collection of muscles called “Coppa” in the neck and shoulder region of the hog, which are the extension of the loin and which run through the shoulder of the animal. Since it is a muscle that works a lot, this meat is extremely tasty. But it has sufficient amounts of fat to add to the tenderness and juiciness of the pork cut.

The Coppa is a butcher cut that is hugely sought after, especially for slow roasting or for charcuterie. It is very rare to find and can be expensive.

When used for the preparation of Capicola, this cut is salted and seasoned and then dry-cured for several months to become safe to eat and deliciously cured Capicola.

Capicola originated in northern Italy but was spread to southern Switzerland and down to Corsica during the Genoese invasions.

How is Cappacuolo made?

Although the pork meat used for making Capicola is not cooked, when it is properly prepared and dry-cured, it is safe to eat and is a favorite delicacy for Italians and Italian cuisine lovers around the world.

Through the lengthy process of salting, seasoning, and dry curing, any harmful bacteria are killed off, and others are prevented from growing on the piece of meat.

In order to make the raw meat inhospitable for any harmful bacteria growth, it needs to be coated with a curing mixture, which includes salt, sugar, nitrate, and nitrite. The additional seasoning used for the Cappacuolo is for adding flavor to the meat and not for killing the bacteria.

The raw meat seasoned with the cure mix has to rest in the mixture for about 7 days so that the cure can penetrate into the meat completely.

The nitrate in the mix will kill off any existing potentially dangerous bacteria, including Clostridium botulinum, which causes the dangerous and often fatal condition botulism. The cure will remove all of the moisture from the meat to make it safe to eat raw and utterly delicious. The nitrite helps decompose and release more nitrate to increase the shelf-life of the dried meat. Thanks to the nitrite, the meat retains that beautiful pink and rosy color during and after the curing.

Meat curing has been used for thousands of years, for preserving meat for long times, without refrigerators.

After the week or so of curing are over, the pork is rinsed off and allowed to dry for several months in controlled temperatures and humidity conditions. During the drying, it will lose about 35% of its water weight. Without water, the bacteria will no longer be able to thrive and grow in the meat.

Several extra steps used by some include using nets or casing to preserve the shape of the meat during the drying.

Another popular step is the appliance of a safe starter culture of white bacteria all over the meat before hanging it to dry. Thanks to the starter culture of good bacteria, any harmful bacteria will not be able to enter the meat.

While this sounds like a reasonable safety precaution, it is not a required step of the curing process for Cappacuolo.

The trickiest part of the process of making Capicola is to control the humidity levels and the temperature of the room or space where the meat is drying. The temperature and humidity need to be just right to prevent the cured meat from drying up too fast and forming a hard shell which can prevent any water inside the meat from evaporating.

The best way to ensure that the temperature and moisture levels are just right is by using a curing chamber. But most of us don’t have dedicated curing chambers, so an alternative is to use a dry curing bag, such as the UMAi dry curing system.

Is there a difference between Capicola and Coppa?

Coppa is the term used for the specific butcher cut from the pork neck and shoulder area. As described above, the cut consists of a group of muscles that are an extension of the loin and has delicious tasty meat and intramuscular fat. The Coppa is quite rare and can be expensive to find, but you may want to ask a reputable whole animal butcher in your area if they offer Coppa.

So, while the term is often used as a synonym for Capicola, Coppa is the name of the cut, and Capicola (or Cappacuolo) is the name of the cured meat delicacy made from the Coppa pork cut.

What does Cappacuolo taste like?

Capicola has a salty concentrated pork meat taste with a touch of heat, depending on the spices and herbs used for making it.

Traditional producers use local Mediterranean herbs, while in the USA, people tend to prefer to use more peppers and other spices for making Cappacuolo.

Nevertheless, the heat (if present) can be tasted only on the edges of the meat and does not penetrate into the skin.

Thanks to the perfect balance between a well-worked muscle and fat, the meat is delicious and, even when dried, a melt-in-the-mouth taste and texture.

While Capicola may look a bit like salami, you should keep in mind that salami is fermented, which brings its acidic taste, while Capicola is not fermented and lacks this taste.

What is the best way to serve Capicola?

Capicola is so delicious that it works best when it is the star in the dish. It is excellent when served on an antipasto or charcuterie platter alongside hard cheeses, roasted peppers, sliced apples, and others. It can be used as a topping for salad or an omelet or for making delicious sandwiches.

What is the difference between Capicola and Prosciutto?

The two delicious air-dried cured types of meat are made from pork and are best served thinly sliced and raw. But as we mentioned earlier, Capicola is made from the shoulder and neck muscles of the animal, while Prosciutto Crudo is made from its hind legs.

Whether Capicola or Prosciutto is better depends on your personal preferences. But Capicola melts in the mouth easily, making it better for a quick snack than the chewier Prosciutto.

Prosciutto is made from an entire ham with the bone, so it takes much longer to dry and cure. In some cases, the process may take years. This makes Prosciutto a more expensive delicacy, which can cost almost twice as much as Capicola.

The Capicola has the fat distributed more evenly throughout the meat, while Prosciutto usually has a band of fat around the edge of the meat. This makes the Capicola a tenderer and attractive option, much like the way the Ribeye steak compares to a New York strip.

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