A friend once asked, “what’s the difference between prosciutto and gabagool?” There is a big difference, but the question is quite understandable for someone of non-Italian heritage, especially since The Sopranos has long since finished its run. Also, for what gabagool refers, there are multiple spellings and neither that pronunciation nor most other pronunciations match what is written at the deli counter or on the package.
I explained briefly, and I thought that it might be good elucidate here further with a little help from The Italian Food Guide by the Touring Club of Italy, and John Mariani’s Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink. Prosciutto is pretty much the best in the broad lunch meat category, in my opinion. And, gabagool, is quite tasty, too, if not nearly in the same league as the much more delicate and expensive prosciutto.
Both are from the centuries-old Italian tradition of preserving as much meat as possible from the annual winter slaughter of the pig. In Italy, prosciutto means ham, the cut from the hind leg. What is commonly referred to as prosciutto is properly called prosciutto crudo. There is also the far less interesting boiled ham called prosciutto cotto. Prosciutto (crudo) is minimally salted and air-cured ham that is widely regarded as delicacy. These hams are sliced thinly and served as part of the antipasti spread, with figs or slices of cantaloupe, or on a sandwich.
Made both in Italy and North America, the Italian versions are far tastier, especially those from the two most famous areas of Parma and San Daniele that you can find more often these days, including the main Spec’s, Nundini and Central Market. Prosciutto bearing these names are aged for at least 300 days and often longer. The Prosciutto di San Daniele is typically a little sweeter of the two. The third of the DOP-denominated prosciutti, Carpegna, which might be the most flavorful of three, but is still not imported to the US. In recent years, four other versions from Modena, Tuscany, the Veneto and Val d’Aosta have also been raised to DOP status. The DOP translates to Denomination of Protected Origin, an EU protection that guarantees authenticity of origin and strict standards of production, and usually signify a product with a historic tradition. And usually quality items, to say the least.
Though prosciutto is also produced in the southern Italy, the cooler climates in the center and the north are far more conducive to high-quality air-cured hams. “Proshoot” is a common southern Italian dialect word for prosciutto.
“Gabagool” is the name for a popular salami in the Italian dialect of greater Naples, at least that dialect from a hundred or so years ago when those immigrants settled in bulk in New Jersey and New York. In the dialect of my grandfather, whose parents were from the Marche, tempered by the Italian neighborhoods of Chicago, it is pronounced as “cabbacall.” In print it is found as capicolla, capicola, capocolla, capacola, capicollo, cappicola and capacolo, plus its correct name in modern Italian, capocollo. It has long been popular throughout the southern Italian peninsula, and so a staple of the Italian-American deli and sandwich shop. It is one of the most common elements of the typical Italian-American sandwich. Capocollo is usually made from the muscle between the head (“capo”) and the shoulder (“collo”). It can be cured with cumin, black pepper, red pepper and chile peppers, and is then aged between 30 and 100 days. It is found in hot and sweet versions, the latter still savory, though.