At the present moment, I’m nestled up in my parents’ house up in Oregon getting all the wedding prep in order and anxiously awaiting Sunday afternoon, when I’ll become a Mrs. It’s crazy to think back to when I first got engaged a year and 9-odd months ago and how quickly the time has flown by. But after so many months of planning and prepping and waiting, I am so, SO ready, and all that currently rests between me and the big day are the mound of sweets my girlfriends and I are preparing for the dessert table (macarons, pie pops, and pavlovas! And my awesome dad is making his traditional baklava recipe. Thanks dad!)
But while I’m away making fancy dainty sweets, I am leaving you with a fancy but not-so-dainty recipe for head cheese. This post is definitely an adventurous one, and as a fair warning, this post does contain a picture of a pig’s head…no longer attached to the body.
I’m sorry 🙁
But, it is the main ingredient so it’s hard to demonstrate what to expect without having the head in there. Basically, head cheese is a chilled meatloaf made from boiled pig’s head seasoned with herbs, spices, and vegetables. Normally all outer parts of the head are diced up and used, (skin, ears, cheek meat, etc, but not gums), so there’s always a fun amount of texture in the slices depending on if you get a cartilage-y ear bit or not. You use the broth that you boiled the head in as the filler because it gelatinizes when chilled and has a wonderfully rich flavor to it. Once prepared, you can slice the head cheese and eat it on its own, or use it in sandwiches, (which is how I prefer to eat it. Head cheese club sandwich on sourdough = amazing).
If you buy headcheese at the market or a deli counter, it’s usually ridiculously expensive, which is why I decided to make it myself. But as it turns out, it’s ridiculously expensive because it’s reallllly tedious to make. To clarify, it’s not *hard* to make, there’s just a lot of little steps that add up to a two-day process, and you also have to have a pot big enough to fit a whole pig’s head in. Then you have to deal with a slippery boiled pig’s head afterwards, which can be tricky to get out of the pot (but I’ll go over tips for that later), and you have to be prepared to shave the head, which for me was definitely the weirdest part. (←Never thought I’d say that last bit in a blog post)
BUT, once all is said and done and you’re left with 4-5 loafs of perfect and delicious head cheese, you’ll be a very happy camper. Especially since head cheese freezes very well, so you can wrap up a few logs tight and save them for a rainy day/fancy party, or fancy rainy day party. And as a side note, the amount of salt, spices, and vinegar listed below may seem like a lot, but when served chilled the flavors really mellow out so you need a little extra oomph in there to keep it nice and flavorful.
Also, the one mistake I made putting this together was that I did not put any weight on top of it when it was hardening up in the mould in the fridge, which is why my slices are a little chunky rather than smooth. The weight helps compact the meat and filling together to make a firmer, sturdier textured head cheese. But I included instructions on the weight here, so don’t skip that step because it really helps make the head cheese much easier to slice.
Head Cheese With Rosemary and Carrots
- 1 clean pig's head shaved with brain removed
- 3 stalks celery chopped
- 2 carrots chopped
- 6 cloves minced garlic
- 1 yellow onion chopped
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Head Cheese Filling
- roughly 8 cups reserved pig boil stock
- 4 carrots chopped into 1/2 inch thick pieces
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 3 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 cup fresh rosemary finely chopped
- 1 large stock pot
- 4-5 loaf pans
- plastic wrap
- 8-10 1 lb bags of dried beans or rice, to use as a weight
- Boil the pig's head with 2 stalks celery, 1 carrot, 6 cloves minced garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme for 5 hours. Turn off heat allow to cool until you're able to handle the head. Remove the head from the pot with a meat hook, or use a dough hook from your stand mixer to help secure a grip on it. Remove the meat from the head, then place the skull back in the pot and boil for another 5 hours.
- After boiling the skull, remove it and then remove any large pieces/vegetables with tongs or a mesh ladle. The skull/vegetable bits can be discarded. Strain the rest of the liquid through a single sheet of cheesecloth and discard any particles that are stuck to the cheesecloth. Allow the strained liquid to cool to room temperature, then cover it and place it in the refrigerator overnight.
- Cut/shred the meat into roughly 1-inch bits and place in a large casserole pan or bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- The next morning, remove the liquid from the refrigerator and remove and discard the layer of fat that has collected on top (I did this using a large flat spoon).
- Take 8 cups of the liquid and bring to a simmer. Add the chopped carrots, apple cider vinegar, salt, black pepper, and thyme. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then stir in the lemon juice and rosemary. Taste, add more salt if needed. It should taste a bit tangy and just slightly too salty. Add more seasonings if needed, then remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- Now take the meat chunks out of the refrigerator and break them apart with your hands while juice is cooling. Then line a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish with plastic wrap, or (3) 4 x 12 inch loaf pans and add the meat pieces.
- Pour over meat mixture, stir, and tap the loaf pan on a flat surface several time with force to help the liquid settle all the way through. Use the flattened palms of your hands to press down really hard on the meat and mixed veggies so that they're nice and compacted. If you now have extra space at the top of the loaf pan that's just liquid, add some more meat chunks and press down again. Lay another sheet of plastic wrap over the top, and then lay down 2 bags bag of dried beans or rice over the top to help apply pressure evenly on top of the loaf. Refrigerate overnight. Done!
Notes: requires overnight refrigeration