I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine who raises pigs. As most of my conversations go, it turned to food. One of the topics that came up was Head Cheese, looking for a good recipe and the appreciation of this odd concoction. My grandpa made this after butcher season so I offered to post the process on how to make it the way I know how to make it.
Keep in mind I love pickled pigs feet, scrapple, fried pig skins and other deliciousness of the hills. Making head cheese is a long drawn out process, but isn’t that the way with anything good?
Okay, so here we go. I am not going to include pictures because I do not have access to a fresh butchered pig right now, and some of my readers may be grossed out a tad with the process.
First and foremost after the main butchering of the hog is done, comes the head prep. There are no real rules to this and its done many ways. The head should be cut in half to make it fit in your boiling pot (outside) a little better. Hog’s heads are very large.
The pig’s face needs cleaned (shaved) of random bits of whiskers. Pigs have very course whiskers. Clean the pig ears inside and out (yes pigs get ear wax too), grossed out yet? You will be. Next are the trotters, otherwise known as the feet and hocks. Pigs feet are gross, yup, they wallow and step in everything and honestly uncleaned pigs feet STINK. While trotters are cleaned immediately following butchering, especially if the plan is to make some pickled pigs feet and hocks, they still are gross. It’s the feet that gives head cheese the thick gel, but you don’t want your cheese to smell like wet locker socks. To take care of that rinse the feet in hot water to get rid of the ‘juice’. Next boil a pot of water with some white vinegar. Blanch the pigs feet for a minute or two and rinse them with cold water, repeat 3 to 4 times. At this time you’ll notice the wet sock smell will be gone. Very fresh trotters may not need this much prep, depends on your hog and how you’ve butchered it or had it butchered.
Now on to the fun stuff. I remember this being done outside in a big boil pot. Combine your brine in the pot:
- 2 gallons of water
- 2 cups of kosher salt
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1/2 cup of Pink Salt (processing salt used for headcheese)
Simmer your brine and cool. Place the head and trotters in the brine to sit overnight.
Rinse off the brine thoroughly. I will tell you that the final product will retain quite a bit of salt.
Head cheese is one of those, use what you have type things so I’m going to list some basic items to include.
- bay leaves
Put everything back in your large pot to cook for 4 hours. All the flavors will meld together throughout the process.
Maintain a simmer in the pot. Again, this should be done outside over an open fire, the smoke will lend to the final flavor.
After 4 hours the jawbone should easily separate from the rest of the skull. The liquid should have a golden hue to it. Drain the golden liquid out and set in the refrigerator to sit overnight (this will create your jelly).
Next, get comfy, because you are in for a lot of picking and sitting. Put on some gloves, and once the head and trotters are cooled down enough to handle, spread out a place to pick all the meat off the head and trotters. Spread your head and trotters out to cool, if you put the in another pot, they will only stay hot.
What to shred and keep is always up for discussion. However, things like the eyes should be discarded. The tongue, take out and skin and set it aside wrapped in the refrigerator. Pull the meat first, you should have plenty to not worry about adding any of the skin or fat.
At the end of the day, cover the pork meat and put in the refrigerator.
DAY THREE (I told you this was a long process)
Pull out your broth. It should be gelatin, under a layer of pork fat. Scrape off the pork fat. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because the gelatin isn’t very firm.
Heat your gelatin on the stove until it becomes liquid again. Strain the liquid using a micro-weave cheesecloth this pulls out any impurities.
After straining the liquid, put it back on the burner until it’s reduced by a third. This takes a while so you can turn your attention to the meat mixture.
Take your pieces of pork and add the seasonings you like. This is always up for taste. I remember the seasoning being sage, rosemary and thyme with a little red pepper. But that is up to you. Mix your seasoning with your pork with gloves on. Shred larger pieces as you mix through the meat, keep the fat that is with the meat.
Taste your gelatin once it’s reduced. If it needs more salt, add it here. You might also need to add a touch of vinegar, but that’s to taste and preference.
Remember the tongue that was set a side? Take it out and cube it up. You can always saved some for sandwiches. Add in the cubed tongue meat to the pork bits, stir in.
Line your bread loaf pans with clear wrap (you’ll need a several bread loaf pans). Make sure you use enough to cover the bottom, sides and plenty to wrap over the top.
Now pack in bread loaf pans. Do not pack super tight, loose but full. Tap down to where there isn’t much space between bits.
Pour your gelatin mixture over the pork bits in the pans. Cover with the clear wrap over the top.
Put in the refrigerator to cool.
The next day you go to the fridge and there you have it. Head cheese.
It can bee eaten plain, on bread, on crackers, as a sandwich.
Until Next Time,
Mrs. Kay Lynn Rice