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Head Cheese

? app  
1 week  
It's disrespectful to a pig to call certain parts "disgusting" and discard them when they are perfectly fine to eat if properly prepared. This antique French recipe for Head Cheese is a good example. The photo specimen is darker and less pink than commercial products because it has more meat in it and was made without Saltpeter.





Pig Head (1)
Fresh Hocks (4)
--- Cure
Salt (5)
Saltpeter (opt 6)
Allspice whole
Bay Leaves
Thyme sprigs
--- Cooking
Bay Leaf
Parsley sprigs
Thyme sprigs
  1. Wash the PIG Head. Scoop out the brain with a spoon and discard it (Note-2).
  2. Remove the flesh and skin from the head bones. Just start working from the edges with a razor sharp boning knife. Work around until you have it all off, then take also all the tongue. (Note-3). You should end up with something near 3 pounds.
  3. Remove the skin from the fresh hocks and all the meat from the bones. You should have about 1 pound of meat and about 1/2 pound of skin. Toss skin and meat in with the pig head. Use the bones to make soup stock.
  4. Grind PEPPER and ALLSPICE, crumble BAY LEAVES, strip leaves from THYME stems. Mix all with Salt and Saltpeter (if used).
  5. Work the Salt Mix thoroughly into all sides of the Pig Head and other meat and skin parts. Pack into a non-reactive (glass, ceramic or stainless) bowl, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for a week (Note-7). I generally pull it out, turn and repack a couple times during the week to make sure everything is well distributed.
  6. After a week of curing in the fridge, rinse all the pieces in cold water and put them into a pot.
  7. Peel the ONION, cut in half crosswise and stick each half with a Clove, cut CELERY into 1 inch lengths and CARROT into 1/2 inch lengths. Put all Cooking items in the pot with the Pig Meat/Skin and add water to just cover. Bring to a boil and simmer very slowly until all pieces of meat pierce easily, 1-1/2 hours should be about right.
  8. Pull all the meat/skin from the pot, cool and cut into fairly large pieces, about 3/4 inch by 2 inches long and 1/2 inch thick. Cut ears into strips about 1/8 inch wide by about 2 inches long.
  9. Boil the broth down by about 1/2. Strain it and de-fat it (use your gravy separator).
  10. Pack the Meat/Skin chunks into molds shaped so the head cheese can be unmolded easily. Pack only medium tight, then pour in enough of the broth to just cover the meat. Let cool and refrigerate until well chilled and jelled.
  11. To unmold, partially fill a bowl with hot water, set the mold in it just long enough to free the cheese, then unmold onto a plate and refrigerate to re-chill.
  12. If you haven't eaten it all within a week, melt it down over very low heat, simmer slowly for 10 minutes, remold and refrigerate.
  1. Pig Head:   in Southern California pig heads are generally sold sawed into left and right halves with the ears, eyelids and some of the lip cut away. Replacement ears are available at Philippine and other Asian markets - they add a crunchy texture. Heads are actually hard to get here, but you can use snouts, tongues, ears an other parts easily available in Asian markets. For details see our Pig / Pork Cuts by Chart page.
  2. Brain:   The brain is mushy but small, about the size of 1/2 lemon split lengthwise. A waste to discard it, yes, but if I were a pig I'm not sure I'd want anyone eating my brain anyway, it's kind of a personal part. Of course if you're a brain-hungry zombie with spoon in hand - go for it!
  3. Boning:   Traditionally you'd start with a whole head with ears on and remove all the skin and flesh in one piece so the head cheese could be made wrapped up in the skin. Generally the butcher shop would perform this work. With a half head this isn't a practical method. One major reason for using the wrap method is the cheese would keep longer, a week even - but we have refrigeration now.
  4. Meat & Skin:   Meat with a lot of connective tissue so it cooks up moist and contributes gel to the broth is preferred - neck and hock are considered good. Fresh hocks are easily available and come with skin on them too so you get two ingredients in one tray - with neck you'd have to buy some extra skin (available in meat markets serving a Mexican community). Some people toss in a pig foot instead.
  5. Salt:   Kosher salt is preferred but regular table salt will do. 3-1/2 ounces is just over 1/3 cup Morton Kosher, just over 1/2 cup for Diamond Crystal, or just over 1/4 cup regular table salt.
  6. Saltpeter:   Including this will make a cheese pinker and more like commercial products, and is also a strong anti bacterial. This can be Potassium Nitrate or Sodium Nitrate - or you can replace all the salt with 1/4 cup Prague Powder #1 (Instacure #1). For details see our Curing Salts page.
  7. Salt Cure:   Antique recipes say to cure four or five days in a "cool place". We don't have places like that in July in Southern California so I suggest a longer time in the fridge.
  8. U.S. measure: t=teaspoon, T=Tablespoon, c=cup, qt=quart, oz=ounce, #=pound, cl=clove in=inch, ar=as required tt=to taste
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