What Is Capocollo? A Guide To the Italian Meat

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Otherwise known by the names coppa, capicola, and gabagool, capocollo is one of Italy’s most famous cured meats.

While not as well known as other cured meats like jamón, prosciutto, and pepperoni, capocollo is one of the most valued culinary cuts.

This article provides a guide to capocollo, the production process, nutrition profile, and how to use it.

What Is Capocollo?

Capocollo Cured Italian Meat Sausage and Slices.

Capocollo is a seasoned, cured, and thinly-sliced cold cut of pork taken from the neck or shoulder.

Historical records demonstrate that capocollo has been in production since the early 1800s, but its first origins may go back to somewhere between the 8th and 5th century BC (1).

How Is It Made?

The traditional way to make capocollo persists today.

According to Italian food author Mario Matassa, the production process involves a seasoning/marinating, curing, and drying process (2);

  • First, the producers season the pork meat in a ‘marinating tub’ with (usually red) wine, spices, and herbs. These herbs and spices tend to differ from region to region, but black pepper and paprika are common.
  • Following this, all sides of the meat are rubbed with salt.
  • After salting the meat, it is put into sausage casings and left to cure for approximately three to six months.
  • Once the capocollo is ready, it is usually cut into thin slices before being packaged for sale.

While the production process is similar to prosciutto, capocollo is from a different cut of meat, and it contains seasonings in addition to just salt.

How Does It Taste?

Capocollo has a soft and tender texture, it is slightly chewy, and it has a fatty, salty, and spicy taste.

However, the herbs and spices are not overpowering, and they add a delicate flavor.

The exact flavor can differ from product to product, as the herbs and spices used in the production vary between different Italian regions.

Key Point: Capicollo is an Italian cured meat which has a soft and tender texture and a slightly spicy taste.

Types of Capocollo

There are seven main varieties of capocollo, each with their own slightly different recipe;

  • Coppa Piacentina: this capocollo has an EU Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), meaning anything bearing the name must originate in Piacenza. The traditional recipe uses salt, pepper, cloves, and cinnamon as seasonings (3).
  • Capocollo di Calabria: this product is the second out of the two capocollo products to hold an EU PDO, and it can only be produced in the Calabria region of Italy. Capocollo di Calabria is traditionally seasoned with vinegar and black peppercorns (4).
  • Capocollo della Basilicata: this capocollo comes from the Basilicata region of southern Italy. The product uses neck meat, and it has a deep red color due to its (sweet or spicy) chili pepper seasoning (5).
  • Capocollo del Lazio: from the region of Lazio in the Central area of Italy.
  • Capocollo di Martina Franca: This capocollo originates in the town of Martina Franca, located in the Apulia region of southern Italy. This particular recipe involves soaking in salt for 15-20 days and seasonings such as thyme, laurel, and oak bark (6).
  • Capocollo tipico senese: this capocollo comes from the Tuscany region of central Italy. The product has a seasoning time of 30-60 days and features a range of different salts, peppers, and spices (7).
  • Capicolla dell’Umbria: This capocollo originates in the Umbria region, located in central Italy. The unique point about this particular cured meat is the coriander used in the seasoning. Unlike other capocollos, this product uses meat from the loins of a pig, and it is lower in fat than other varieties (8).
Key Point: There are seven primary varieties of capocollo and all of them have a slightly different production process and recipe.

Nutrition Facts

In the table below, you can find the basic nutrition profile for a typical capocollo product.

In this case, the product is from ‘Busseto Foods.’

The nutritional values come from the USDA Food Composition Databases (9).

Nutrition Facts For Capocollo
Calories/NutrientAmount (Per 100 grams)Amount (Per 2 slices / 28 grams)
Calories321 kcal90 kcal
Carbohydrate0 g0 g
Fat21.4 g6.00 g
Protein28.67 g8.00 g
Sodium1607 mg450 mg
  (Approx salt)4018 mg1125 mg

Unfortunately, detailed food composition details for capocollo have not been published, so the data for the fat breakdown, vitamins, and minerals are missing.

However, based on published nutrition data for fresh pork shoulder meat (which is used to produce capocollo), the fatty acid breakdown per 100 grams would be as follows (10);

  • Total fat: 21.4 g
  • Saturated fat: 7.9 g
  • Monounsaturated fat: 9.47 g
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 2.05 g

Additionally, the major nutrients include;

  • Selenium: 33.4 mcg (47.7 % DV)
  • Vitamin B1: 0.58 mg (38.7 % DV)
  • Zinc: 3.71 mg (24.7 % DV)
  • Phosphorus: 212.0 mg (21.2 % DV)
  • Vitamin B3: 3.99 mg (20.0 % DV)
  • Vitamin B2: 0.33 mg (19.4 % DV)
  • Vitamin D: 61.0 IU (15.3 % DV)
  • Choline: 80.0 mg (14.5 % DV)
  • Vitamin B6: 0.29 mg (14.4 % DV)
  • Vitamin B12: 0.80 mcg (13.3 % DV)
Key Point: Nutritionally, capocollo is high in fat and protein. This cured meat is also a good source of selenium, zinc, and B vitamins.

Benefits

Nutritional

As shown in the nutritional values, capocollo offers a large amount of high-quality protein.

In addition, it is very high in selenium, which is an essential mineral that plays a role in DNA production and enhances immune health (11).

Capocollo is also an excellent source of B vitamins, including the crucial vitamin B12.

B vitamins have a wide range of important functions that include energy production, DNA synthesis and repair, and the production of various neurochemicals required by the brain (12).

General

Further to the nutritional benefits of capocollo, this cured meat is also very convenient and straightforward to prepare.

In other words; we can use it directly, and it requires no cooking, no preparation, and no time-consuming recipes.

Key Point: Capicolla is easy to use and it provides several essential nutrients.

Concerns and Drawbacks

High In Salt

Generally speaking, all cured meats contain large amounts of salt.

Capocollo is exceptionally high in salt too.

As shown in the nutritional values, it contains more than four grams of salt per 100 grams.

Over the past several decades, salt has indeed been overly-demonized for its role in raising blood pressure. However, there are variable differences in the individual response to salt, and some people are ‘salt-sensitive’ (1314).

In such individuals, high salt intake can have an adverse impact on blood pressure, and it has links to hypertension (15).

For this reason, people who are sensitive to salt may wish to limit their capocollo intake or discuss with their physician.

Nitrates and Nitrites

Some, but not all, capocollo products may contain sodium nitrate or nitrite.

Nitrates and nitrites are preservatives that can (potentially) convert to nitrosamines. These compounds are thought to be carcinogenic (16).

High-heat cooking temperatures are thought to play a role in this conversion process, but it can also happen within the body (17).

Interestingly, though, these compounds may also convert to nitric oxide, which has a variety of health benefits (18).

How Much Nitrate and Nitrite Does Capocollo Contain?

A recent study on the amount of nitrate/nitrite in food found that capocollo has a much lower amount than bacon and even many vegetables.

Using the study’s data as a source, the table below shows the mean amount of nitrate and nitrite in capocollo compared to other cured meats and vegetables (19);

Nitrate and Nitrite in Capocollo, Cured Meat, and Vegetables
FoodMean Nitrate (mg/kg)Mean Nitrite (mg/kg)
Bacon1787.7
Capocollo690.76
Cured ham21
Lettuce10791.01
Onion69
Rocket salad441516
Zucchini736

For those who have concerns over nitrate/nitrite consumption, vitamin C is thought to help inhibit nitrosamine formation (20).

Additionally, some capocollo products only use salt for preservation, so nitrate-free options are also available.

Key Point: The salt and preservative content of capocollo may be a concern for some people.

How To Serve Capocollo

Cured Capocollo Meat.

Capocollo is a versatile cured meat, and we can use it in many different ways.

Commonly, people serve capocollo in sandwiches, on pizza, in salads, and as part of cheese platters.

Here are two more tasty ways to use the meat.

1) Capocollo-Wrapped Chicken Breasts

Chicken breasts can be a little boring served plain, and wrapping them in capocollo can add some flavor.

Two tasty ways to do this include;

  • Spreading some cream cheese on the chicken breasts, topping them with capocollo, and then baking.
  • Putting some salad on top of the chicken breasts, and then wrapping capocollo around them before baking.

2) As Part of a Cheese Board

Combining capocollo with some different types of cheese, cured meat, and fruit can help to make a delicious cheese board.

Some different ingredients to consider could include;

  • Berries
  • Semi-hard cheese like cheddar, gouda
  • Soft cheese such as brie and camembert
  • Black olives
  • Green olives
  • Prosciutto
  • Different varieties of salami

Final Thoughts

Overall, capocollo is a delicious and traditional Italian cured meat that offers lots of flavors.

Capocollo is also a good source of several nutrients, particularly protein, selenium, and B vitamins.

There are also some common concerns surrounding this—and all—cured meat.

However, in reasonable amounts, this cured meat can be a tasty addition to the diet.

For more on cured meats, see this guide to traditional salami products.

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