- You may know it by the name of capocollo, coppa, capicola, gabagool.
- Dozens of names to describe one Italian delicacy: a distinctive cured meat made from pork neck, easy to spot thanks to its vivid red color and beautiful marbling.
- Capocollo from Martina Franca is a blend between two unique things: the very Italian practice of curing pork neck, and the aromas of the oak forest where the pigs roam.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Claudia Romeo: You may know it by the name of capocollo, coppa, capicola, gabagool — dozens of names to describe one Italian delicacy: a distinctive cured meat made from pork neck, easy to spot thanks to its vivid red color and beautiful marbling. Unlike ham, the fat in pork neck makes capocollo a soft, tender, and incredibly tasty cut. We're in the countryside of Martina Franca, Italy, and today we're going to talk about one of the country's finest capocollo, capocollo di Martina Franca. This type of capocollo is very special because it's made from pigs that feed only on acorns from a local tree, fragno. And it doesn't stop there. The tree is also very important in the making process. Let's go find out more.
Giuseppe Cervellera: The piece of meat that we're going to start working on now comes from the head to the seventh rib, after which it is deboned and processed.
Claudia: So, do pigs have two necks?
Giuseppe: A pig has two necks, a right one and a left one. From one pig we would get only two capocolli.
Claudia: Is there a difference between the right one and the left one?
Giuseppe: No, the anatomical piece is the same. The important thing is that it's cut from the head to the seventh rib.
Claudia: The piece Giuseppe works with is a big one, about 3 or 4 kilos, which at the end of the curing process will lose about 50% of its weight. The meat is then seasoned with salt, pepper, and a touch of Senise chili pepper, a variety of chili pepper coming from the neighboring region of Basilicata that adds a sweet, smoky scent to the meat. The capocollo then cures for 15 days, and every couple of days it is rubbed by hand to ensure it absorbs all the flavors from the spices. Unlike other types of capocollo that would go straight to dry-curing, this one is also brined for six hours. But this brine is not your average water and salt — it's vincotto, cooked grape must. Grape must is that thick, fresh juice you get when crushing grapes to make wine. Its freshness also makes it high 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 used to be made during the harvesting season.
Claudia: Now it's going to take a nice bath.
Giuseppe: What happens in this marinade? If there is a bit of excess salt, it will discharge it.
Claudia: So just like the salt had to penetrate earlier —
Giuseppe: Now the wine has to penetrate in order to give that unique flavor. After the marinade, we go to the casing phase. The casing phase — we use the intestine, the pig's stomach. Not artificial, it's the pig's stomach.
Claudia: Which is this one.
Giuseppe: Which is this one.
Claudia: It's perfect for the casing. You can really smell the grape must. After casing it, Giuseppe pierces the capocollo to allow excess air out, firmly tying a string to it to be able to hang it during the curing. To make sure the capocollo has a perfect cylindrical shape, he first wraps it with a sock and then puts it through a custom-made funnel. It looks like one of those tools to measure the size of your suitcase at the airport.
Andrea: Now we put a second sock to compact it, to tighten it. To make sure that all the humidity, the excess water that is there now will go away.
Claudia: Yes, so now it's basically tightened in these socks.
Andrea: Exactly, to make sure that all the blood, the grape must, and whatever else drips.
Claudia: And only meat is left.
Andrea: Only meat, exactly.
Giuseppe: Here it is, the capocollo.
Claudia: It's a child.
Giuseppe: It's true.
Claudia: The goal now is to remove all the excess liquid from the meat. This drying phase will happen gradually in three different temperature-controlled environments. The first one is a drying room, where the meat will spend seven days and lose all of its liquids, like grape must and blood. The second, a pre-curing room, is a room with high humidity levels to reintroduce some moisture into the meat.
Giuseppe: There we were working with 20 degrees and 50 degrees of humidity, whereas here we start working in reverse. We have 17 degrees. We start going down in temperature and going up in humidity. This means that here we have 68, 70 degrees. We are giving it back humidity. Fresh air.
Claudia: So, from here I predict that in the next room there will be even more humidity and the temperature will be lower, right?
Claudia: After another seven days in the pre-curing room, the meat reaches the final destination of its curing process, the curing room. It will stay here for 150 days.
Giuseppe: The real, perfect curing, in this case. Now our product will be at around 15 degrees and 80, 85 degrees of humidity.
Claudia: At the end of the 150 days, it's time to remove the socks to finally reveal the capocollo hiding inside. Wow. Why do you do it outside?
Giuseppe: Because us, our company, thanks to our families, have had the chance to create it right in the forests, in the perfect climate for cured meats, in the freshness of the oak trees that we have here in our forest. So by staying surrounded by nature, we give it an added value. Working outdoors to really get a product of excellence.
Claudia: By the way, I have to say that, although we are outdoors, the smell is incredible.
Giuseppe: Well, after all the work we put in.
Claudia: It's a paradise.
Giuseppe: We will for sure get some excellent products.
Claudia: So, now it's dried. Not dry, but dried. It lost all —
Giuseppe: It has all the characteristics of a capocollo.
Claudia: Here you have three socks. Four socks.
Giuseppe: Now we have a product ready to be smoked and to be sold in a few days.
Claudia: So this is the capocollo that's ready.
Giuseppe: Capocollo di Martina Franca.
Claudia: The smell is really inebriating.
Giuseppe: We can't wait to taste this. It's making our mouths water.
Claudia: Giuseppe tricked me when he said the capocollo is calling us to taste it. We still have another step to see: the smoking. To better understand just how much this step affects the final product, we need to go back to the forest that is so dear to Giuseppe. While he removes all the socks, his son Andrea tells me more about the local oak tree, fragno.
Andrea: Today we are in the Court of Fragni, a big 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's a tree that gives us the opportunity to give a very good aroma by smoking it. The fragno is very important because our pigs roam freely and eat fragno acorns. For example, here we have —
Claudia: Here they are.
Andrea: Exactly. [Andrea calling to pigs] [pig grunting]
Claudia: Spreading from the Balkans to Turkey, the Itria Valley is the only place in Italy where you can find this type of oak. The fertile soils of this hilly farmland, together with the very Italian practice of curing pork neck, makes capocollo from Martina Franca a truly unique product. After breathing the crisp air of the Court of Fragni, I rejoin Giuseppe in the smoking room, or the "black room," as he likes to call it.
Giuseppe: We're going to light up the fire here in a bit. With the fragno, those oaks that you have seen and whose acorns are eaten by the pigs. We take a few twigs and we light up the fire to smoke them. This is another typical recipe. Because our grandparents, 50 years ago, couldn't add any preservatives, that kind of stuff. So to keep away flies, to stop them from sticking to it, they used to be smoked.
Claudia: Ah, but it also adds a distinct flavor.
Giuseppe: Then it adds our characteristic smell of oak. After smoking, we go taste our famous capocollo.
Claudia: Let's go. Before they light up the fire.
Giuseppe: All our aromas are coming out. See?
Claudia: Yes, incredible.
Giuseppe: Can you smell the characteristics of the grape must?
Claudia: Yes, and the smoking too. The meat is nice and soft, it's not dry. You can see it from the color, it's a vivid red. In this piece — in this cut there's not a lot of fat.
Giuseppe: Capocollo has 15% fat, just enough to keep the slice humid.
Claudia: It's really a characteristic of the neck.
Giuseppe: Of the neck, yes. Now we taste it. [meat crackling]
Claudia:Wow. Mm. Amazing. You can taste the grape must, the salt, the pepper, the spices. But I really like that it preserves that taste of meat.
Giuseppe: Because the pigs roam freely and eat the acorns of our forest. You can taste that it's a nice firm and well-flavored meat.
Claudia: Yes, yes. There's also a fresh aftertaste from the acorns.
Giuseppe: From the smoking, the grape must.
Claudia: Really incredible on the palate. Amazing. So, how many days did it take to make this capocollo?
Giuseppe: 160 days.