Yes. I realize the way that sounds. Head cheese. I can picture many of your facial expressions now, because I saw similar ones in the few people I told about this project face-to-face. But hear me out.
I’m a big proponent of nose-to-tail eating. After all, if we must eat a living thing – and everything we eat was once living – then we shouldn’t waste it. This means finding ways to use parts many are used to throwing away. Radish tops. Turkey or chicken bones. Broccoli leaves. And yes, a pig’s head.
I split a hog with a friend a few months ago. We’ve been thoroughly enjoying the bacon, chops, roasts, and sausage. But I’d also asked the boy (He was raising hogs for college money.) if I could have the head. He gave me two. They occupied space in my freezer for about two months before I finally carved out the time to tackle one.
When the time came though, it was a breeze. Only slightly more difficult than making stock, and considerably less tough than making a proper terrine. It was surprising how much meat really comes from a hog head. There’s a great deal from the tongue and cheeks. I had enough to fill a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan with ease. I also had an added bonus – about 7 quarts of golden, delicious, porky broth. I’ll certainly enjoy using that for soups and stews throughout the winter.
The head cheese is deliciously meaty, and somewhat rich, but not overly so. We enjoyed thin slices on crackers, accompanied by cheeses, various pickles, apple slices, grainy mustard, and an egg salad. It makes a lovely cold lunch, and a nice change to a more typical salami or other cold meat. I was glad to have made it.
But most of all, I’m glad for the experience. There’s something about making a food that most others have long forgotten, and using a part of an animal most throw away. I’m looking forward to the other hog head, although I’m more planning on dedicating that one to tamales.
Head Cheese (gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo)
1 pig’s head
2-3 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 T kosher salt, plus more to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Fresh ground black pepper
Place the pig’s head in a large stockpot (I had to use my huge tamale pot to make it fit). Place the bay leaves, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, and salt in the pot and fill with enough water to just cover the head.
Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer on low for about 6-8 hours, or until meat is falling apart and tender.
Carefully remove the meat and bones from the stock and set on a platter. Once cool enough to touch, pick apart the meat and collagen material and place in a bowl. You can opt to include bits of skin as well if you choose. Skin the tongue and include the tongue meat as well. Chop the meat into 1/2 inch dice. Toss with the lemon juice and more salt, plus fresh pepper, until it is to your taste.
Simmer the remaining stock until it has sufficient “gelling” capability. You can test this by putting a spoonful in a small bowl and chilling it. If it gels, you’re good. If it doesn’t, reduce the stock more.
Line a terrine or loaf pan (I used a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan) with plastic wrap. Spoon all of the meat into the prepared pan. Pour in just enough of the pork stock to cover the meat, and press everything down. Wrap securely, pressing down the wrap to ensure the mixture fills the entire mold. Refrigerate overnight. Keeps for about a week.