How is dried pork capocollo made in Italy

  • You may know it as capocollo, coppa, capicola, gabagool.
  • Dozens of names to describe an Italian delicacy: a distinctive charcuterie made from pork neck, easy to spot thanks to its bright red color and beautiful marbling.
  • Martina Franca’s capocollo is a mix between two unique things: the very Italian practice of curing the pork neck and the aromas of the oak forest where pigs roam.
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Here is a transcript of the video.

Claudia romeo: You may know it as capocollo, coppa, capicola, gabagool – dozens of names to describe an Italian delicacy: a distinctive charcuterie made from pork neck, easy to spot thanks to its bright red color and its beautiful marbling. Unlike ham, the fat from the pork neck makes capocollo a soft, tender, and incredibly tasty cut. We are in the countryside of Martina Franca, Italy, and today we are going to talk about one of the best capocollo in the country, the capocollo di Martina Franca. This type of capocollo is very special because it is made from pigs that feed only on acorns from a local tree, the fragno. And it does not stop there. The tree is also very important in the manufacturing process. Let’s find out more.

Giuseppe Cervellera: The piece of meat we are going to start working on comes from the head to the seventh rib, after which it is boned and processed.

Claudia: So do pigs have two necks?

Giuseppe: A pig has two necks, one right and one left. From a pig, we would only get two capocolli.

Claudia: Is there a difference between the right and the left?

Giuseppe: No, the anatomical part is the same. The important thing is that it is cut from the head to the seventh rib.

Claudia: The part with which Giuseppe works is a large part, about 3 or 4 kilos, which at the end of the drying process will lose about 50% of its weight. The meat is then seasoned with salt, pepper and a touch of Senise chili, a variety of chili from the neighboring region of Basilicata that adds a sweet, smoky flavor to the meat. The capocollo then hardens for 15 days and every other day it is hand rubbed to make sure it absorbs all the flavors of the spices. Unlike other types of capocollo which would go straight to dry-drying, this one is also brined for six hours. But this brine isn’t your ordinary water and salt – it’s vincotto, cooked grape must. Grape must is that thick, cool juice that you get when you mash grapes to make wine. Its freshness also makes it rich in sugar, a perfect sweetener but also a drink.

Giuseppe: Martina Franca was born as a town of winegrowers, we make wine. This cooked grape must was formerly produced during the harvest season.

Claudia: Now it’s going to take a good bath.

Giuseppe: What happens in this marinade? If there is a little excess salt, it will reject it.

Claudia: So just as the salt had to penetrate earlier –

Giuseppe: Now the wine must penetrate to give this unique flavor. After the marinade, we move on to the casing phase. The envelope phase – we use the intestine, the stomach of the pig. Not artificial, it is the stomach of the pig.

Claudia: What is this one.

Giuseppe: What is this one.

Claudia: It’s perfect for the camera. You can really smell the grape must. After wrapping it, Giuseppe pierces the capocollo to allow excess air to escape, firmly attaching a string to it so that it can be hung while it cures. To make sure the capocollo has a perfect cylindrical shape, he first wraps it with a sock and then runs it through a custom funnel. It looks like one of those tools for measuring your suitcase size at the airport.

Andrea: Now, we put a second sock to compact it, to tighten it. To make sure that all the moisture, the excess water that is there now will be gone.

Claudia: Yeah, so now it’s basically tight in these socks.

Andrea: Exactly, to make sure all the blood and grape must and everything else is flowing out.

Claudia: And there is only meat left.

Andrea: Only meat, exactly.

Giuseppe: Here it is, the capocollo.

Claudia: He’s a child.

Giuseppe: That is true.

Claudia: The goal now is to remove all the excess liquid from the meat. This drying phase will take place gradually in three temperature-controlled environments. The first is a drying room, where the meat will spend seven days and lose all of its fluids, such as grape must and blood. The second, a pre-salting room, is a room with high humidity to reintroduce a little humidity into the meat.

Giuseppe: There, we were working with 20 degrees and 50 degrees of humidity, while here we start to work in the opposite direction. We have 17 degrees. We start to drop in temperature and rise in humidity. This means that here we have 68, 70 degrees. We give it moisture back. Fresh air.

Claudia: So from there I predict that in the next room there will be even more humidity and the temperature will be lower, right?

Giuseppe: Yes.

Claudia: After an additional seven days in the pre-salting room, the meat reaches the final destination of its salting process, the salting room. He will stay here for 150 days.

Giuseppe: Real and perfect hardening, in this case. Now our product will be around 15 degrees and 80, 85 degrees humidity.

Claudia: At the end of the 150 days, it’s time to take off the socks to finally reveal the capocollo hidden inside. Wow. Why are you doing this outside?

Giuseppe: Because we, our company, thanks to our families, had the chance to create it in the middle of the forest, in the perfect climate for cold meats, in the freshness of the oaks that we have here in our forest. Thus, by remaining surrounded by nature, we give it added value. Work outside to really get a product of excellence.

Claudia: By the way, I have to say that even though we are outside, the smell is incredible.

Giuseppe: Well, after all the work we’ve done.

Claudia: It’s a paradise.

Giuseppe: We will definitely get great products.

Claudia: So, now it’s dried. Not dry, but dried. He lost everything –

Giuseppe: It has all the characteristics of a capocollo.

Claudia: Here you have three socks. Four socks.

Giuseppe: We now have a product ready to smoke and sell in a few days.

Claudia: So here is the capocollo which is ready.

Giuseppe: Capocollo di Martina Franca.

Claudia: The smell is really intoxicating.

Giuseppe: We can’t wait to taste this. It makes our mouths water.

Claudia: Giuseppe cheated on me when he said that the capocollo was calling us to taste it. We have yet another step to see: smoking. To better understand how much this step affects the final product, we have to go back to the forest so dear to Giuseppe. While taking off all the socks, his son Andrea tells me more about the local oak, fragno.

Andrea: Today we are in the courtyard of Fragni, a large forest immersed in nature. The fragno is a very important tree in Martina, because the capocollo that we produce is smoked thanks to the fragno. It is a tree that gives us the possibility of giving a very good aroma by smoking it. The fragno is very important because our pigs roam freely and eat acorns of fragno. For example, here we have –

Claudia: Here they are.

Andrea: Exactly. [Andrea calling to pigs] [pig grunting]

Claudia: Stretching from the Balkans to Turkey, the Itria Valley is the only place in Italy where this type of oak is found. The fertile soils of this hilly agricultural land, combined with the very Italian practice of curing pork necks, make Martina Franca’s capocollo a truly unique product. After breathing in the crisp air of Fragni’s courtyard, I join Giuseppe in the smoking room, or the “dark room,” as he likes to call it.

Giuseppe: We’ll be lighting the fire here in a moment. With the fragno, those oaks that you have seen and whose acorns are eaten by pigs. We take a few twigs and light the fire to smoke them. This is another typical recipe. Because our grandparents 50 years ago couldn’t add conservatives, that sort of thing. So to keep the flies away, to keep them from getting hooked, they were smoked.

Claudia: Ah, but that also adds a distinct flavor.

Giuseppe: Then it adds our characteristic oak scent. After having smoked, we will taste our famous capocollo.

Claudia: Let’s go. Before they light the fire.

Giuseppe: All our aromas come out. See?

Claudia: Yes, unbelievable.

Giuseppe: Can you smell the characteristics of grape must?

Claudia: Yes, and smoking too. The meat is nice and soft, it is not dry. You can see it from the color, it’s a bright red. In this room – in this cup there is not a lot of fat.

Giuseppe: Capocollo contains 15% fat, just enough to keep the slice moist.

Claudia: It really is a characteristic of the neck.

Giuseppe: From the neck, yes. Now we taste it. [meat crackling]

Claudia: Wow. Mm. Amazing. You can taste the grape must, salt, pepper, spices. But I really like the fact that it preserves that meaty taste.

Giuseppe: Because pigs roam freely and eat acorns in our forest. You can taste that it is a nice, firm meat with a good flavor.

Claudia: Yes Yes. There is also a fresh aftertaste of acorns.

Giuseppe: From smoking, grape must.

Claudia: Really incredible on the palate. Astonishing. So how many days did it take to make this capocollo?

Giuseppe: 160 days.

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