• Tackling the Oddest Cut & Making Head Cheese

    by  • January 14, 2014 • Featured, Meat, Recipes & Meals • 11 Comments

    making head cheeseIn all our charcuterie practice, there’s one part of the pig that we’ve never fully explored. We finally faced the meat and it returned a couple pounds of tender succulent pulled pieces, 7 quarts of stock, and one specimen for anatomy study. What was it?

    The head.

    When we contracted with a butcher to eviscerate and skin our last pig from Six Bucket’s Farm, it arrived head on. “What will we do with that?” we wondered as we dutifully packaged it for the freezer. Our next pig is growing large and almost due to head to the butcher as well, so we’re clearing out the freezer. The head demanded our attention.

    pig head stock and meat

    Don’t mind the chia pet on the counter.

    Making Head Cheese

    Alex started the cooking by simmering the head and a ham hock in a large pot of water with onions and garlic overnight in a low stove. (This is the way we make all stock now, by the way.) Next, he picked the meat off the bones, reserving the liquid stock. Lil loved these meat pickings, eating two meals of pork chunks alone.

    To make the terrine, Alex combined the meat with spices and a bit of stock. He compressed this mixture in a mold overnight. Find a full recipe in Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, though Alex adapted for the winter season by using stronger clove and allspice seasonings.

    “Why does this have to be called head cheese?” I moaned to Alex. It’s a seriously delicious potted meat with a name that turns so many people away. The ‘cheese’ part is a complete misnomer because it’s not made of milk or cured with lactofermentation or melty or anything like cheese. Pork terrine is a generic but adequate descriptor. Charcuterie friends also suggested pig parts terrine, souse, or braun.

    head cheese appetizer (2)

    We’re fortunate to have culinarily curious friends who were able to get over the name and try our head cheese. Served on homemade baguette with sour cherry spread, they loved it.

    Using Every Last Bit

    Later, I reheated the strained stock, sanitized jars, and pressure canned it. Our selection of nourishing stock makes warm meals simple – open a jar, add veggies, meat, noodles, and/or dumplings, and soup is served.

    cooked pig skull

    Finally, we needed to dispense of the large skull and jaw bone. The chickens would love cleaning the bones, but instead we delivered them to Alex’s mom, a teacher at the School for Young Children, a play-based preschool. She sanitized the bones and added them to the SYC nature table. Lil demands that the next skull can’t be given away because she wants it for herself to study.

    Meat is Meat is Meat

    In processing the pig’s head for edible meat, we concluded again that there are no ‘good cuts’ and ‘odd cuts’. It’s all just meat.

    Some choose not to consume animal flesh, and that’s OK. But for those of us who do, what’s the difference between eating an animal’s thigh versus the cheek? Flesh and fat can be enjoyed from any part of the animal. Bacon, the revered ‘makes everything tastier’ meat, is from a belly that wallows in mud, if the animal lives a good life.

    If you’re eating meat at all, you owe it to the creature to use every part. Now we know that the head isn’t just an odd cut to be conquered, but one full of succulent meals.

    Have you made or eaten head cheese? 

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    I live to eat and eat to live, planning every meal to include as much local and seasonal abundance as possible. My favorite color is purple, my favorite vegetable is whatever is fresh and local, and my favorite drink is whatever you're pouring. Follow me @racheltayse


    11 Responses to Tackling the Oddest Cut & Making Head Cheese

    1. January 14, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      I thought the cheeks were another place to make bacon from? I don’t really know. I think all parts of an animal are useful, but since I only buy the cuts I want I guess I don’t think about the head. On the other hand, if I had everything, I’d figure out something and the bones can always be made into stock. It’s amazing how much money is spent a year on making stock when freezing up your bones for a big batch is so simple. I do like that you use all of the parts. Question – since you butcher a whole hog, do you find that most of your meals are pork throughout the year?

      • January 14, 2014 at 10:30 pm

        We cut as much of the cheeks as we could for guanciale – you’re correct that they are a great source of bacon-like goodness.

        We actually get a half hog twice a year, and somehow that isn’t nearly enough to cover our meat needs. We cook for more than the three of us very often (at least twice a week), so that’s where a good amount goes, I suppose.

    2. Amy
      January 14, 2014 at 10:04 pm

      This is timely because I just finished reading Shannon Hayes’ book ‘Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lover’s Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies, and Living Deliciously’. It is mainly about using the whole animal with quite a few recipes for the ‘Under-Appreciated Treasures’. I’ll admit that I have no experience using these lesser known components, but as more people like you share their story, I feel like there are cheerleaders out there encouraging me to continue my homestead journey to be courageous and learn more. Thanks for sharing!

      • January 14, 2014 at 10:37 pm

        I liked her Radical Homemaker book, so I’ll have to pick up Long Way on a Little at the library.

        Do be courageous in your meat cooking! It’s a great way to eat well while honoring the whole animal.

    3. January 15, 2014 at 10:07 am

      Head cheese makes me stomach turn because the kind I grew up with wasn’t just meat but had tongue and brain added as well. All the parts were used to make a product out of the head. Now if it’s just meat from the skull that I could deal with and be willing to try!

      • January 15, 2014 at 2:21 pm

        We used the tongue but not the brain for this one…

    4. Karen
      January 15, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      My mother remembers coming home from school and seeing the pig’s head sitting in a dishpan. Her mother was pouring boiling water over it to scald the meat off for head cheese. As for Alex’s method, boiling the whole head, does that include the brains? Are there any concerns with pork about consuming neural tissue, like there are with beef? I suppose if you are buying from a farmer and know how the meat was raised, prion based disease is not really a concern.

    5. Karen
      January 15, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      As for a name, I humbly suggest “head spread”.

      • January 15, 2014 at 2:23 pm

        Head spread, haha!

        The brains were still in the head but we didn’t add them to the head cheese. I wouldn’t be concerned about prion disease with the pigs we are getting, but we just skipped it because extracting the brain is a bit of a chore.

    6. jeff
      January 29, 2014 at 11:08 am

      I believe the term “Head Cheese” is derived from the fact that it has to be pressed in a mold much like your hard cheeses. AFA cheek meat being used as bacon that is a misnomer as the cheek meat comes from the jaw area vs. the jowl coming from the area directly behind the skull and jaw area. I also had a lady ask me about the brain and what most people don’t realize is that a pig brain is the size of a golf ball, after all, how much brain does a pig need? I have been in search of an old time souse recipe that involves sage and cornmeal. If you have a recipe like this please feel free to share.

    7. March 19, 2014 at 11:07 pm

      Hmm no matter how delicious it tastes I would definitely be put off by the name Head Cheese.

      Saying that I don’t often think about where my meat comes from and maybe I should more…or maybe not.

      Head on Bread is another suggestion :-)

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