If you're a fan of The Sopranos, you've likely adopted the term "gabagool" after hearing the clan discuss their love of cured meats every few episodes. If you were to order gabagool at a typical restaurant, you may receive some furrowed brows, but if you're in a region with a large Italian-American population, like New Jersey, they'll have a platter of capicola in front of you in no time.
Capicola, which SBS describes as a "moist and tender" cured meat made from the neck of a pig, is a delicious addition to charcuterie platters and antipasto, and is often served alongside other Italian meats such as prosciutto and salami. While many Americans have had a taste of this salty cured meat before, they probably don't introduce it to their party guests as gabagool unless they're Italian-American. So, where in the world did this word originate from and what does it actually mean?
The word gabagool was born when a variety of Italian dialects merged, but what it translates to in Italian is: nothing. Atlas Obscura confirms that gabagool is just a mutation of the word capicola, spoken with a very specific accent.
Naples-born linguistics professor Mariapaola D'Imperio explains to Atlas Obscura that Italian linguistics is far from straightforward. The Italian language, D'Imperio notes, was initially a smorgasbord of multiple dialects. Each old Italian "kingdom" spoke its own variation of the language up until unification, when Italian officials picked one language, known as Standard Italian, to make communication easier.
Italian-Americans — those responsible for the notorious term gabagool — speak an Italian that is nowhere near Standard Italian, claims Atlas Obscura. "Instead it's a construction of the frozen shards left over from languages that don't even really exist in Italy any more, with minimal intervention from modern Italian," writes Atlas Obscura's Dan Nosowitz. Regardless of the language's progression, Italian-Americans on the East Coast can all agree that gabagool is capicola.
Over the years the Italian language in America has morphed into something new, and Italian-Americans continue to celebrate their heritage by not always speaking the language, but as Nosowitz puts it, "putting on an antiquated accent for a dead sub-language to order some cheese." Or, of course, cured meat.
That said, we're here to talk about capicola. It's just one of many types of cured meats, and it's probably one you've heard mentioned a lot on a certain sort of television show. Chances are pretty good you may have heard about it more than you've had it, and it's definitely not a more mainstream sort of cured meat, like bacon. So what, exactly, is it? It is as unhealthy — and delicious — as bacon? What makes it different from all the other types of cured meats out there? Is it as authentically Italian as it seems, or is it just pretending?
Let's find out!
Let's clear up a big one here — what exactly are you eating when you take a bite of capicola? It's actually impressively specific.
We'll start with where it comes from, and according to DePalma Salumi, capicola (or capocollo) is one of a number of types of cured Italian meats. This one comes specifically from the area of the pig between the neck and the fourth or fifth rib of the pork shoulder. That's what the word means, in fact: "capo" means "head" and "collo" means "neck." Academia Barilla gets even more specific and says the pigs of choice are at least eight months old and weigh at least 300 pounds. Traditionally, the best of the best comes from large breeds typically raised in the south of Italy.
In case you're wondering what makes this part of these pigs so special, SBS says it's all because of the fat ratio. Capicola is 30 percent fat and 70 percent lean, and that means it's both tender and moist, even after it's been cured.
Cured meats are nothing new, and capicola definitely isn't new. According to Academia Barilla, capicola goes back to the era of the colonies of the Magna Graecia... but what does that mean?
For that answer, we'll need to turn to the Ancient History Encyclopedia. The Magna Graecia were areas along the coast of southern Italy that were colonized by the Greeks between the 8th and 5th centuries BC. We did say it's been around a long, long time!
These ancient Greeks were attracted to the area by the particularly fertile lands and its perfect position within a larger trade network, and when they settled there, they made it completely Greek. Not only did they bring things like the Olympic Games
, but they also brought stuffed pork sausages. That kicked off the start of the area's deep love of all things pork, and they're still known for their large-breed pigs and their pork products today — including capicola.
Capicola, coppa, capocollo... which one is it?
These ancient Greeks were attracted to the area by the particularly fertile lands and its perfect position within a larger trade network, and when they settled there, they made it completely Greek. Not only did they bring things like the Olympic Games, but they also brought stuffed pork sausages. That kicked off the start of the area's deep love of all things pork, and they're still known for their large-breed pigs and their pork products today — including capicola.
Capicola, coppa, capocollo... which one is it?
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