This has been something that I’ve wanted to make for over 2 years now. I first heard of headcheese from a friend of mine at the gym. I was running a 12 week paleo challenge there, and he asked me what my take on headcheese was. At the time I was dead against any and all dairy products and since I had never heard of headcheese before, I assumed that it was some crazy stinky cheese. How wrong I was. Turns out, headcheese is very similar to a cold cut or deli meat, just a little less uniform in texture. It contains the meat, fat and skin of the pig head plus all the gut healing gelatin as well. I dare say it could be a superfood. Especially for my epilepsy treatment.
Headcheese unfortunately gets a bad rap mostly because of it’s name I think. It’s an obvious turn off for many people, including many people in the paleo movement where nutrient dense foods are touted as the most important way to eat. There’s a huge disconnect with a lot of people when it comes to seeing the face of the animal you’re about to eat and I must admit, that before two or so years ago, I would have been one of those people as well. Now however, I would have to say I’m a big proponent of eating nose to tail and respecting the whole animal. Seems only natural that I should make some headcheese just to try it out at the very least.
I’ve written about my experiences eating animal heads in the past. Most notably during our trip to Pittsburgh over the summer to visit our good friends Bill and Hayley from Primal Palate. We went to an amazing sushi place and we were served an entire King Salmon head which we all ate and enjoyed immensely. But this dish isn’t a fish head. It’s a pig’s head. I also wrote a little bit about the nutrient content of pig heads when I went to hang out in San Diego with Pete from Pete’s Paleo.
So why did it take me over two years to get around to making this? First, I had to find a place that would sell me an entire pig head. After searching high and low, I finally found a place in Cook Pigs Ranch. I was invited up to their farm this past October to see their operation and hang out. Since that visit, I’ve been singing their praises because I’ve never seen happier pigs in my whole life. Those pigs in turn, produce the tastiest pork I’ve ever had as well. I left that day, with a whole bunch of delicious pork goodies including an entire head.
After a few months of researching the various ways to make this dish, I finally decided it was time to test it out on my own. The result was nothing short of delicious. The meaty, fatty goodness is perfect for late fall and winter type of recipes as well. The herbs and spices are amazing and it just tastes like a richer version of any pork dish the you are familiar with. As a bonus, making headcheese also has a byproduct of the most flavorful and nutrient rich bone broth. Essentially you’re getting two recipes for the price of one!
While I was making it, my cousin told me that his grandmother has a special affinity for headcheese. So I decided to bring her some for Christmas when I went back to Colorado. As soon as I handed it to her, she not only knew exactly what it was without me saying a word, but then she dropped a bomb on me that I wasn’t expecting. Turns out, it’s one of her favorite dishes of all time and she hasn’t had a decent one in OVER 30 YEARS!! No pressure for my first time right? 🙂
- 3 gallons water
- 2 cups celtic sea salt
- 1 quart spiced apple cider
- 1 whole pig head, quartered and ears removed
- 2 pig feet, split in half
- 2 onions, peeled and quartered
- ½ head garlic peeled and split in half
- fresh sage
- fresh rosemary
- fresh thyme
- fresh parsley
- whole cloves
- coriander seeds
- bay leaves
- In a large stockpot, add water, spiced cider and celtic sea salt and heat over medium heat until all the salt dissolves. About 15 minutes.
- Remove pot from heat and allow to brine to cool to room temperature.
- While brine is cooling, prep the head by first removing any remaining bristles by singeing them with a kitchen torch or shaving them with a razor.
- Use a kitchen knife to remove pig ears from head and clean out the ear canals (pigs get waxy ears too) using a Q-Tip.
- Place the now bristle-free quartered head and ears into brine making sure all parts are completely submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- Remove brine from refrigerator and pull out pig head and ears. Rinse and pat dry.
- Pour out brine and rinse and pat stockpot dry. Return stockpot to stovetop.
- Add pig head, ears, feet, onions and garlic to pot and pour enough water over until all parts are covered by about an inch.
- Tie all fresh herbs together in a bundle and add to pot.
- Add all spices to a large tea ball or muslin bag and add to pot.
- Bring water up to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 4-5 hours
- Remove head, ears and feet from cooking liquid and set aside to cool for about an hour.
- While meat is cooling, reduce cooking liquid over medium heat by two inches. When it's finished reducing, strain cooking liquid with a cheesecloth and set aside. This will be one of the more flavorful bone broths you have ever tasted.
- Once cooled, remove any bones from the pig head and feet taking care to remove teeth as well. Peel tough skin off the tongue and discard keeping the meat from the tongue. Everything except the bones, teeth and tongue skin can be saved including the eyes and brain. If you want a less fatty product, feel free to discard some of the skin and fat but not all of it. You will need it to help the headcheese set.
- Once separated, roughly chop the meat mixture and place in a large mixing bowl. Add about ⅓ to ½ cup of cooking liquid and a large handful of chopped parsley to meat mixture and stir to combine.
- Pour meat mixture into a large baking dish or terrine dish. You may need more than one as this recipe makes quite a bit.
- Cover dish and place in refrigerator to allow it to set overnight.
- Once set, slice off as much as you like and enjoy cold or crisp up in a skillet over medium heat
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