Some foods get a bad rap based on their names alone, and head cheese has got to be one of the foods hit hardest by this phenomenon. We're content to euphemize all manner of other, stranger things. Blood sausage gets called blood pudding, testicles have been re-branded as "prairie oysters," and I don't even want to think of what we would call hot dogs if we were being literal. For some reason, head cheese gets referred to as almost exactly what it is. Almost.
Head cheese is, in fact, made with heads -- real ones, from pigs. But there is no cheese involved, and really the word "cheese" was probably employed because referring to something as "head loaf" is really quite unappetizing. Now, unless you are an offal devotee, you might see the phrase "pig's heads" and want to hide under the covers, but the truth is that there's a lot of great meat hiding in there, and once it's separated from its admittedly graphic housing, has some of the best and porkiest flavor you'll find on the whole pig. We've never made head cheese ourselves, but after seeing brave Redditor mrmexico25's step-by-step head cheese tutorial, we might have to give it a shot.
If a picture of an animal's head stewing in a pot is going to make you woozy, you might want to consider switching over to a more vegetable-oriented post right now. For the rest of you, here's how the head cheese gets made.
This is where you start. A couple of heads in big old stock pot with vegetables, aromatics and seasoning. This stews for an incredible six hours to get everything tender. Pro tip from mrmexico25, "The part that takes the longest to cook is the tongue, so once it's fork tender, then you're done!" After stewing, straining the stock, picking the meat and stuffing it all into large sausage casings, the finished product is then chilled overnight. What you end up with is a piece of charcuterie that looks completely at home next to things lots of people are way more comfortable with -- salami, prosciutto, pancetta, foie gras. Head cheese, at its core, is just another kind of chunky paté.
I'd always thought that head cheese required adding in gelatin to set, but when you cook down pork bones for that long, the collagen that gets released into the broth is enough to bind everything once it's chilled completely. That, friends, is what we call making something out of nothing. A lot of the commenters on Reddit were understandably shocked by the photos in this how-to, and you might be also. But it's pretty undeniable that using all the parts of the animal, making them all taste good and helping them all to be appreciated, is about the most respectful thing you can do. Plus, it tastes delicious.
Click over to Imgur for the entire tutorial gallery, with way more step-by-step photos. We just might have to make our own head cheese now, thanks to mrmexico25. We salute you!