The selection of delicious, cured meats on a standard charcuterie board will often include two Italian classics: prosciutto and capicola.
Both are types of dry salumi, but they differ significantly in cut, curing method, texture, and so on.
Their similar dried-pork appearance sometimes confuses people, and this sometimes causes them to be mistaken for one another.
In this prosciutto vs. capicola article, I hope to clarify any misunderstandings you may have by discussing their similarities and differences.
What Is Prosciutto?
In the U.S., the word prosciutto is used to describe a dry-cured uncooked ham which Italians refer to as “prosciutto crudo.”
They refer to cooked ham as “prosciutto cotto.” Unless otherwise stated, prosciutto is always cured, aged meat.
Prosciutto originated during pre-Roman times. Then, Italians cured their pork legs to stretch their winter meat supply.
Over time, the curing technique was refined, and today the custom is celebrated around the world.
How Is Prosciutto Made?
Prosciutto is made from the thigh or hind leg of a pig.
The meat is cleaned, marinated in salt, then placed in a cool environment for two months.
After that, it’s washed and seasoned again, then left to age for a further 18-24 months.
The curing process is very precise, as the right temperature and airflow are required throughout.
How Does Prosciutto Taste?
This fatty cut offers the perfect balance of salty and sweet, with a rich but refined porcine taste.
When thinly sliced, the light, buttery texture melts in your mouth and allows a succession of sensational flavors to develop.
How to Eat Prosciutto
The best way to showcase prosciutto cotto’s flavor is to slice it thinly and serve with balancing trimmings like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or a ripe melon.
The best way to eat prosciutto crudo is paired with mozzarella di bufala for an appetizer or snack.
Another delicious way is pressed between a panini.
What Is Capicola?
Capicola is a dry-cured whole-muscle meat of Italian origin. It’s a type of salume, also known as “capocollo,” or “coppa,” in some regions of Corsica and Italy.
The name “capocollo” was coined from “capo,” meaning head, and “collo,” meaning neck, to specify the part of meat used to make them.
Capicola is made with the muscle that runs from the neck to the fourth or fifth rib, generally considered to be a pig’s shoulder.
This cut weighs about 2.5 pounds and has the perfect balance of meat and fat. It’s renowned for its tender texture.
How Is Capicola Made?
The meat is coated in a mixture of salt, nitrite, and nitrate.
It’s then left to rest for a week or so to allow the mixture to penetrate the pork fully.
After the meat is cured, the mixture is rinsed off and seasoned with garlic, red or white wine, and various herbs and spices, including paprika.
It’s stuffed into an intestine casing and hung to cure for up to six months under a controlled temperature and humidity.
During that time, dehydration causes the meat to lose about 35% of its weight.
How Does Capicola Taste?
Capicola tastes like salty, concentrated pork with a sprinkle of heat.
How spicy it depends on the peppers and seasoning used in the curing stage. However, the general heat level is low as the spices only exist on the rim of the meat.
Capicola has a delightful balance of meat and intramuscular fat that offers a creamy and unique “melt and chew” feel without being overwhelming.
How to Eat Capicola
Capicola is quite hard, so it should be sliced thinly, or else it won’t be easy to chew. However, when cut right, it has a similar texture to prosciutto di Parma.
When wrapped around roasted peppers or cheese, like asiago stravecchio, it’s an indulgent appetizer.
It’s typically featured as part of an antipasto or charcuterie platter with some sliced apples, roasted or pickled, and hard cheeses.
It’s also lovely when crisped up and sprinkled over a salad or omelet.
What Are the Similarities Between Prosciutto and Capicola?
A charcuterie board or classic antipasto platter just isn’t the same without a few slices of prosciutto and capicola.
Even though their similarities are few, what they do have in common makes them easy substitutes for each other.
One of their prominent resemblances is they’re both dried, cured pork types.
To create their results, both cuts go through a lengthy dry-curing process lasting from several weeks to months.
The methods used to dehydrate the meat involve an osmosis process, which prevents harmful bacteria from growing.
Most microorganisms that cause food poisoning are killed off due to the high salt concentration. This is why both types of meat are perfectly safe to eat raw.
Prosciutto and capicola should both be served as thin slices. They offer a smoky and rich taste with a buttery texture.
What Are the Differences Between Prosciutto and Capicola?
Unlike their similarities, there are many more differences between the two.
The main difference is which portion of meat is used to create each delicacy and the method used to get the result:
Prosciutto is made from the thigh or hindquarters of a pig or boar.
Though pig is the most common ingredient in making prosciutto, other animals like lamb, goat, or beef are also used.
The process used to make it involves salting and drying the animal’s leg for up to 36 months and is similar to this:
- The pig’s leg is salted then left for several weeks in a dry and cool place.
- Then the salt is washed off and hung in a cool and humid place for an additional 60 to 90 days.
- In total, the meat is left for 12 to 36 months in a space that allows the most air circulation. The longer it’s left, the firmer it gets.
Capicola is created from the “coppa” muscle that runs from the animal’s rib to the upper section of its neck and is always made using pork.
The details for how it’s aged differ depending on personal and regional preferences.
Its curing process includes seasoning the meat then leaving it to cure for a much shorter length of time – no more than six months:
- First, the pork neck and shoulder are seasoned with herbs, garlic, spices, and wine.
- A salt rub is applied to the meat and refrigerated for several weeks.
- The salt is washed off, then seasoned again using a mixture of black pepper, red pepper, fennel, paprika, aniseed, and coriander.
- Then the meat is stuffed into a natural casing made from the animal’s diaphragm or collagen sheets.
- Finally, the meat is hung in a temperature-controlled place to be dry-cured for up to six months.
Taste and Texture Differences
When it comes to the differences in taste and texture, they both have a smoky and rich taste with a buttery texture.
This is due to the fat content they have in common, and the seasonings used to provide an overall distinct taste.
With prosciutto, sea salt is the sole seasoning used, which defines its salty tone.
The combination of salt, air, time, and fat skin casing gives prosciutto its mildly sweet and delicate flavor.
Prosciutto has a high-fat concentration around its edges and can be tough to chew. Thus, you may need to strip the fat and eat the meat without it.
It can be enjoyed uncooked as prosciutto crudo or cooked as prosciutto cotto.
On the other hand, capicola is more tender.
Its preparation and seasoning result in a fatty texture (without being overwhelming), as well as a lightly smoked and spicy taste.
Capicola is usually encased in the intestine, which adds to its taste.
Though capicola has a consistent distribution of fat across the surface of the meat, it has a lower fat content, making it tender.
Its intramuscular fat woven throughout the surface makes it look nicer when sliced, but the balanced amount of meat and fat can be enjoyed in every slice.
Appearance and Packaging
When you compare them in appearance, you’ll notice that prosciutto is much larger, and its color is noticeably lighter than the color of ham.
Prosciutto can be sold in various forms, and it may come as a whole leg or be sold in thin slices like ham or ham steak styles.
Capicola, meanwhile, is much smaller, has a vivid red color, and is sold like a roll of salami.
Prosciutto is more expensive than capicola due to its lengthy production process; it can cost twice as much.
Summary Table: Prosciutto vs. Capicola
|It is made from the thigh and hind leg of the animal.
|The meat is taken from the neck and shoulders.
|The curing process takes between 18-24 months.
|It can be cured within six months.
|It is encased in the fat and skin of the animal’s thigh.
|Uses natural casing like the animal’s intestine.
|Has a high concentration of fat around its edges.
|The fat is evenly distributed throughout the cut.
|It can be made from other domestic animals.
|It is always made from pig meat.
|Has a subtle salty and sweet taste.
|It is subtly spiced and smoky-tasting.
Prosciutto and capicola are two of the most popular dried, cured meats you’ll find on a traditional antipasto or charcuterie platter. Although they resemble each other, they have several differences.
The most prominent differences include the part of the animal used to make them, the duration of the curing process, and their unique flavors.
Since prosciutto is surrounded by fat and capicola’s fat is evenly distributed throughout, you can use this to differentiate the two before tucking in. Buon appetito!