I was really excited about making headcheese this month for Charcutepalooza. Having never made it nor had it before, this was totally new territory. Add that to the fact that I kind of like making and eating things that others crinkle their nose at. And, once I had read up on it, explaining what headcheese was to people was great fun… the first 5 or 6 times. My good friend, Mike, a lifetime vegetarian (among other things) patiently listened to me go off about it then said, “I kinda want to try it, but just because you made it…” He didn’t, but the offer is still on the table.
So, the short version, even though most of you reading this may have just made your own headcheese, is that headcheese is not a cheese but rather a terrine made of tender meat mostly from the head set in pig jelly. There, I said it — thanks to Scott for that phrase. If that turns you off, you may want to stop reading. But you shouldn’t, because this process brought together a few things I’ve been learning about cooking and curing meat from Ruhlman and others.
So, the first not surprising hurdle was finding a pig’s head. Fortunately, I’ve been sourcing most of my belly from Larga Vista Ranch near Pueblo, CO. I was confident in asking Doug if he could set aside a head the next time he had pigs go to the butcher. No problem. A couple weeks later, I picked up a wrapped and frozen head from the farmer’s market. I was slightly giddy as I unwrapped it and snapped a few photos to post.
I didn’t even notice that certain things that others mentioned were missing (ears, skin, snout). Even with the addition of a couple trotters and a hock, I think I ended up missing a bit of the gelatin in the final setting.
So, a quick brine and into the pot.
As the head/trotter/hock was simmering, I realized that this was basically a pork stock. Cool, because I know how to make stock. Let it go for a few hours until the jaw came off fairly easily. While the meat pieces were cooling, I checked the “stock” for how it would set up when cooled as Ruhlman recommends, and I would second this important step. The unfortunate response was “horribly”. Reduce liquid by a quarter. Check. Still not setting. While it probably did not, this part of the process felt like it took longer than the cooking of the head. Two quick troubleshooting notes – the first I mentioned above was the lack of skin, snout and ears, the other was that there was just a LOT of water in the pot. Eventually I got it to gel up, and I had run out of time anyway. Into a loaf pan with all the good bits and covered in plastic. Into the fridge overnight.
So, it was in good shape when VERY cold, but was certainly not set at room temp. The best news was that it tasted good which should not have been surprising (pork in pig jelly) but it was. That was probably the best lesson from this project. Try something new that most (modern) folks turn their noses up at and it ends up being fun and, generally, tasty.
Update: Just a quick addition; the recipe was a simplification from Ruhlman/Polcyn’s Charcuterie.
– head, 3 trotters split, 1 hock
– white wine
– my variation of a bouquet garni – 1 leek, split. dried parsley and thyme. bay leaves.
– few cloves of garlic (4)
– bay leaves (8 or so)
– cloves, allspice, nutmeg
– splash of vinegar
Cooked for ~4hrs between 180 and 190 F.