Head cheese is one of my favorite things to come out of a pig’s head. It sounds pretty freaking disgusting, but fear not: no cheese is involved. It consists of bits of head meat and fat suspended in the gelatin stock you get when you boil a pig’s head. It takes forever to make, but it’s a relatively easy recipe.
- 1 pig’s head, most flesh and fat removed (instructions here, includes graphic pictures)
- 1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
- 1 bouquet garni
- 4 pig hocks and/or trotters (optional; these contribute a significant amount of gelatin, so the stock will need to be significantly reduced if you’re not using them)
- lots and lots of koshering salt
Add the skinned pig’s head to a large stock pot and add enough water to cover. It’s not the end of the world if a little bit of the nose is sticking out, but fill the pot as full as possible. I find a four-gallon pot works well for the size of head I get.
Add garlic, bouquet garni and salt (and hocks and trotters, if using). Bring to a boil and then simmer until the head can be pulled out, clean and in two pieces.
Take a ladle and spoon a couple tablespoons’ worth of broth into a bowl, and place in the fridge. Keep the pot simmering. Check in half an hour or to see if the broth has “set”; you’re looking for something about the consistency of Jell-O. If it’s not there yet, continue to reduce and continue to test.
Once the test broth has set, turn the burner off, and with a slotted spoon, dredge the pot for scraps of meat, discarding white connective tissue, garlic, bouquet garni and eyeballs (yes) as you go. Fill a loaf pan with the meat scraps. When the loaf pan is full, ladle broth over it until the level of broth reaches the top of the meat, and leave in the fridge to set overnight.
After several hours, you’ll wind up with a loaf of head cheese, with a nice layer of fat on the top. Remove from the loaf pan and slice; it can be enjoyed with bread or salami.
Side note: You’ll have a lot of broth left over. This will harden into gelatin, which is the same exact thing that Jell-O and aspic are made of. (It’s possible to clarify it by adding egg whites to the pot and floating some shredded cabbage on top — the egg whites will absorb some of the impurities and attach to the cabbage so they can be easily removed, or at least that’s what’s supposed to happen. I’ve never been able to get it to work, and my dreams of homemade Jell-O and aspic-glazed paté remain unfulfilled.) I just put the pot straight in the fridge, once it’s cooled enough, and scrape out the gelatin later to freeze and add to soup — when hot it’s a liquid and adds protein to your meals.