Capicola, also known as Cappacuolo, is a cured dry salumi that is pretty standard on the majority of antipasto platters and charcuterie boards. This meat is cut very thin like a lot of other charcuterie meats.
Capicola is a super versatile treat that can be enjoyed in a large number of different ways.
It’s generally only called cappacuolo if you’re ordering it at an Italian sub place like Jersey Mike’s. Everywhere else, it is called capicola.
Within this article, we will go over what capicola is and how it tastes, as well as how you can make it at home. And don’t worry, we’ll figure out how it differs from prosciutto as well.
Capicola is a product made from pork. Specifically, it is made out of the whole muscle that is taken from the neck and shoulder region of a big pig. In this area, there is a good distribution and balance of meat and fat that gives capicola its signature taste.
The particular muscle that this cut of meat is taken from is more commonly known as the “coppa” which is where the meat got its name from. The coppa muscle usually weighs around 2.5 lbs, meaning that you can get a lot of the thinly sliced meat out of one pig.
The process of taking raw meat and turning it into a dry-cured little delicacy is pretty long and involved but does eventually make the meat safe to eat even when it’s not been cooked.
Although it might sound complicated or difficult, the process is the only way to make sure that you remove any harmful bacteria that might be living in the meat whilst also making it inhospitable to any new bacteria, making it totally safe (and totally tasty) for people to eat.
In order to achieve this, you need to cure the pork with a combination of salt, nitrate, and nitrite. Sometimes people might use other seasonings but these are not necessary for the dry-curing process and are simply for adding flavor.
You need to let the pork rest for about a week in order to let the cure properly penetrate the meat and kill off any and all bacteria that could be harmful to ingest.
The nitrite is there to kill the really nasty little things that could be hiding in there like botulism.
After the nitrite is used up then the nitrate will slowly decompose and become another wave of nitrite so that the meat can be preserved longer. Fun fact, nitrite is actually what gives cured meats their distinctive rosy color.
After the meat is fully cured then the salt mixture is rinsed off and the meat will then be allowed to air dry under a tightly controlled temperature and humidity for several months until it is about 35% dehydrated and has a lot of its weight.
At this point, there won't be enough water left within the meat to allow any more bacteria to grow on it as bacteria needs to have plenty of water in order to survive and a properly air-dried capicola won't allow for that.
There is another step that some people follow but is absolutely not required, and that is spraying the meat with a starter culture of perfectly safe white bacteria in order to ensure that there isn’t any space for harmful or dangerous bacteria to take a hold of.
Most people probably aren’t going to be able to make Capicola at home, due to how difficult it is to control the temperature and humidity of space as it air dries.
However it is essential that you get these parts right, otherwise, the meat will dry out too quickly and form a hard shell that would prevent water from the inside of the meat to evaporate and make it a new breeding ground for bacteria that spreads through the air.
That said, if you, like most of us, don’t have a dedicated curing chamber in your house with temperature and humidity controls then you will still be able to make capicola at home using a special dry curing plastic bag.
These bags use a special kind of plastic that lets evaporating water out of the space whilst not letting any bacteria in to ruin the meat.
Technically a lot of people will use “coppa” to refer to the muscle that the meat is derived from, so if you ask a butcher for coppa, they’re probably going to hand you a slab of raw meat.
However there are people and companies that use coppa interchangeably with capicola, so if you were to see, for example, a pack of dry-cured, thinly sliced coppa in the deli counter then that is going to be the exact same product as capicola.
In some places the meat can also be called cappacuolo, coppacolla, and, like Tony Soprano and other New Jersey Italians call it, gabagool.
As the curing process may have suggested to you, capicola tastes quite salty but also has an element of spice to it too. This does generally depend on the seasoning used during the curing, as a lot of people like to coat the meat with various different kinds of pepper.
Regardless of the spice blend, the heat is always pretty low and only really noticeable on the edges of the meat.
Due to the balance of the meat and the fat, the combination gives this product a distinctive chewiness to it, whilst other parts of the meat will melt in your mouth. The duality is one of the special things about capicola.
Whilst it might look very similar to salami, it definitely tastes quite different. This is because salami needs to undergo fermentation which results in an almost acidic twang to the flavor profile. Capicola goes through no such process and therefore isn’t acidic.
Capicola is such a special kind of meat that it doesn’t feel right to keep it to the side. A lot of the time, capicola will be presented on a charcuterie or antipasto board as the main player.
This is a meat that pairs really well with sliced apples, hard cheeses, and pickled or roasted peppers.
If you want to experiment more with your meals, you could also add capicola to a salad or omelette, though you probably want to crisp it up first and treat it like a kind of amazing, superior bacon.
Who are we kidding though, capicola also makes the perfect snack when you’re standing in front of your kitchen at 2am, desperate for a snack.
Some people might consider it a shame to hide capicola among other meats and bread, but I personally think that it makes a great addition to an Italian sub sandwich, along with an assortment of salamis and pepperoni.
If you get the right bread, you could be in for a God-tier sandwich.
Although it may appear that capicola and prosciutto have a lot in common, there are some important differences that you want to remember before you think that you can just substitute one for the other.
The first is the background. Mainly that capicola is made from the neck/shoulder muscle of a pig, whilst prosciutto is made from a pig’s hind leg.
If you were to look at a picture that compared the two, then you would see the next major difference.
Capicola has a much greater balance of meat to fat, giving it an incredible combination of textures, whilst prosciutto is balanced more like bacon, meaning that more of it melts in the mouth and is less chewy - if this is what you prefer then that’s totally understandable.
The other things that you will note are that capicola is generally a lot cheaper than prosciutto, due to prosciutto taking a much longer time to make dry-cure.
Whilst they’re both lovely meats, one is more accessible to a larger variety of people thanks to it being sometimes half the cost.
Capicola is wonderful dry-cured meat that can come in a variety of different flavors, depending on how it is seasoned whilst it is curing.
It has a nice-looking marbled appearance that shows off the combination of meat and fat, which is one of the elements that give this meat such a delicate and distinct flavor. There’s no wonder that Tony Soprano talks about this meat (gabagool) so often.
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