Making Headcheese

No Cheese Needed

Fromage de tete, coppa di testa, brawn, presskopf or souse, we are speaking here, of course, of headcheese, a frighteningly disgusting term for what turns out to be a delicious dish. The old saying that with a pig you eat everything but the “squeal” is true.

“If we are going to live on other inhabitants of this world we must not bind ourselves with illogical prejudices, but savor to the fullest the beasts we have killed. Why is it worse, in the end, to see an animal’s head cooked and prepared for our pleasure than a thigh or a tail or a rib?” M.F. K. Fisher

Our new processor asked last year when I delivered four hogs if I wanted the heads. Immediately I knew that headcheese was in my future. But, time and energy interfered. The heads lay bundled up at the bottom of the freezer, forgotten, and eventually pitched at the dump. A year later, last week, another hog delivered and the same question. And, yes, was my answer.

So Saturday morning I hauled out the head, ears and trotters and placed them in the sink. Using Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for headcheese from the River Cottage Cookbook I gathered up onions from our garden, clove, coriander, nutmeg, peppercorns, and a big bundle of fresh thyme, rosemary and parsley from the herb garden and got to work. Using my butcher saw I quartered the head so that it would fit into the pot easily. Adding the head, ears, trotters, onions, seasoning and herbs to a biggish pot of water and brought that to a boil.

Next step is to skim of the scum that floats to the top for about 30 minutes then reduce to a simmer for four hours. After four hours the meat and bones are removed. The liquid is reduced by 2/3 to a gelatinous soup. Next I pulled the meat from the head and jaw and finally chopped into a hash, peeled the skin of the tongue and did the same. Then mixed in a good sized clump of fresh parsley (chopped) and juice of a lemon (many use apple vinegar) and put the mixture in the fridge.

When the liquid was reduced it was strained into another pot. The onions and bundle of herbs were tossed. The meat mixture was then pressed into a terrine and the liquid was ladled over the top. Placed back into the fridge until the jelly set.

What a nice way to create a delicious dish from some very inelegant ingredients. I do recommend using the head next time for those of you who raise or buy a side of pork from time to time. Talk about nose to tail eating!

I’d close by recommending three other books, a holy trinity of sorts, dedicated to the concept that nothing gets wasted. They are all by Jennifer McLagan. “Bones”, “Fat”, and “Odd Bits”. Each is beautifully produced and full of wonderful recipes: Ex. ravioli of brains and morels.

Where did I put my brains?