Fromage de tête: Cheese for the lactose intolerant

[Warning: The following may not be suitable for the weak-of-stomach, the meat-averse, the meat-with-a-face-attached-averse, the animal-head-averse, the owners of pet pigs, and probably a few other people. Welcome, everyone else.]

Headcheese: A Recipe/Photo Essay

1. Take one freshly butchered head from a pastured Berkshire hog.

(Give the ears away to someone else at the butchering demo.)

2. Leave pig head in a freezer in Williamsburg until a suitable size pot is located in which to place it. (A 16-quart Le Creuset.) Fetch head and lug home on the subway.

3. Brine head overnight. Worry from the outset about it not being totally submerged. Wrestle with it every few hours to rotate it within the brine (it weighs a lot, you know). Ten hours in, worry a little about leaving it out during a 100°F-heat wave and then realize that the pot fits in the fridge if you leave the lid off. Put pot in the fridge for the last 14 hours.

4. Discard brine. Cover head with water and a couple cups of white wine. Throw in an onion, some garlic cloves, peppercorns, a bouquet garni of parsley, bay leaf, and thyme, and simmer for three hours until done.

5. Wrestle head out of the pot. Be careful — head is extremely, extremely hot and completely unwieldy. An extra pair of hands is useful. While allowing it to cool, strain the cooking liquid and reduce, reduce, reduce.

6. Divest skull of meat, giving your fingers first-degree burns in the process, reduce meat to bite-size pieces, and place in a terrine. Regret for a moment giving away those ears; they would have been such a lovely textural addition to the finished product. Ah well. Continue picking off flesh.

[For some reason, this photo seems to wig people out the most, so I’ll leave it off this post. Must be the teeth.]

7. Continue reducing cooking liquid. Taste, add a lot of salt. Reduce some more.

8. Test cooking liquid for doneness by spooning some on a plate and sticking it in the fridge. Worry a little that there doesn’t seem to be any gelling happening. Continue reducing cooking liquid. Add some chiffonaded parsley to the bits in the terrine (all that beige needs a little perking up — the green is so pretty!).

9. Say “To hell with it” after an hour of reducing and pour the liquid into the terrine. Stick in the fridge overnight and cross fingers in the hopes that gelling will occur with time.

10. Experience equal amounts gratitude and elation when it turns out that there is, indeed, aspic holding all the bits together. Regret unmolding headcheese for a photo since there’s basically no way in hell it’s going back into the terrine all in one piece.

(Resolve to reduce cooking liquid even further next time for a stiffer set and to take home a trotter as well for added gelatin. Resolve also to cut meat into smaller pieces so the thing is actually sliceable.)

11. Enjoy headcheese for the next week and a half with some salsa verde.


11 Responses to “Fromage de tête: Cheese for the lactose intolerant”

  1. 1 joyce June 29, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    what happened to the eyes? do they just melt away a la indiana jones?

  2. 2 winyang June 29, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    The eyes are still in there. I tried to pry them out with the tongs after the whole thing was done, but the muscles holding it in the socket were so taut from being cooked that I gave up and just left them in there. I don’t even know why I bothered trying to remove them in the first place; the Brooklyn Kitchen people (who hold the butchering demo and usually have to take the head home since few people are willing to and who, consequently, have made headcheese 3 or 4 times this year already) mentioned doing it, so I thought I had to too. Turn out no.

    The brain, however, DOES melt away. It’s apparently 1/3 fat and mostly cholesterol, and I think it comprises the majority of the greyish clumpy scum I had to skim off the surface while the head was simmering. Man, to think all consciousness and intelligence is basically buried in a big ball of cholesterol. Makes me look at orca-fat dudes in a whole new light.

  3. 3 Cathy July 3, 2008 at 10:36 am

    OH my god, you are my HERO!! This is amazing. Did you get the head from a butchering class at the Brooklyn Kitchen? Or elsewhere? How did you find the headcheese technique/recipe? Books? I am amazed… looks tasty, too.

  4. 4 cupcake July 8, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    yo, winnie. maybe you saw them, but i have some photos from tom’s butchering class here (can i leave website comments??):


  5. 5 winyang July 8, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Cathy: Yes, head is from the Brooklyn Kitchen butchering demo. Headcheese recipe is mostly from Ruhlman, but I also looked at Grigson’s charcuterie book as well. Though people keep telling me Bertolli’s recipes are the best in this domain, which I keep forgetting.

    Cecily: But of course. And very nice. Much better than mine (unsurprisingly).

  6. 6 carl July 10, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    The photo you left out reminded me of the Goonies.

  7. 7 Michelle July 28, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    “Leave pig head in a freezer in Williamsburg until a suitable size pot is located in which to place it ”

    Fantastic. You’rer like the patient henchman for the Tony Soprano of porkdom.

  8. 8 キャビテーション 効果ない February 28, 2017 at 6:53 am


  1. 1 Not Eating Out in New York » Blog Archive » 4 Things Everyone Can Learn from a little Pig Butchering Trackback on September 25, 2008 at 4:54 pm
  2. 2 Yang can cook « Fat is flavor Trackback on October 5, 2008 at 1:09 pm
  3. 3 First time for everything « Fat is flavor Trackback on October 11, 2011 at 3:34 pm

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