Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Headcheese - it's the weirdest cheese of them all, and possibly the hardest to make

Headcheese tops my list of weirdest foodstuff ever.  It's basically a hog's head, boiled, the meat removed, then the broth boiled down to make a thick jelly.  That's it.  That's headcheese.  Weird!

If I'm so grossed out by headcheese, why did I decide to make it?  Not sure really, perhaps because I've never done it before.  Though the more I think about it, the more I realize I made headcheese because I couldn't stand the idea of waste.  More and more I feel it necessary to honour the animals we eat by using every part of them.  

A couple of weeks ago, my friends butchered their oinkers, and I went to help.  Lovingly raised, these little piggies had it good: A warm cooked breakfast every morning, massages, and I suspect even songs.  It's a real privilege to give thanks to such well cared for animals before they met their end.

Next comes the most disgusting thing I've ever done - so far.

I brought home the head.

For the next 6 hours, myself and The Captain experimented with different ways to remove the bristles from the skin.  We tried scalding, skinning, plucking, shaving, and in the end we settled for a small blow torch and scraping.  Wish we had started with that to begin with, as it would probably have taken only about an hour.

Next came the part where we saw the head in half so we can scoop out the brain.  We can probably leave the brain in there, though I suspect it would make the final cheese cloudy.  Also, I'm not brave enough to eat brain yet, so I felt we needed to get it out.  A hack saw with a blade designed to cut metal was the best tool we found.  But if you ever have a chance to buy your own hogshead, get the butcher to cut the skull in half for you -  parts of the skull were nearly 4 inches thick.

There are a lot of recipes out there for Head Cheese, some simple, some beyond complicated.  I opted for one in the middle.  The recipe is from In The Charcuterie bye Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller.  I'm not going to copy the recipe here as most libraries have this book.  Besides, if you are interested enough in working with meat to read this post, you really need your own copy.

One change I did make is to make the brine using only a small amount of boiling water, than top it up with cold water once the head was ready to go in the vat.  Then in the fridge it goes overnight.

After that, the head comes out of the brine and into the largest pot in the kitchen.  A word of advice for any other crazy people who want to try this - make certain you have a large enough pot before you start.

Boiled with some vegetables for a few hours, until the meat falls from the bones.  Meat is removed, broth is kept and simmered down to make a jelly.  Add some extra spice to the meat, and eventually meat and jelly are combined in a loaf tin to make... drum roll please... head cheese.

Best tool for removing the meat - fingers
just make certain it's cool enough first
Leave it in the fridge overnight to set.  Keeps most of a week in the fridge.

If, by some miracle I ever make this again, there will be changes.  First off, never again will I do this in the heat of the summer.  It takes up far too much space in the fridge, and waiting till almost midnight for the kitchen to be cool enough to work in, makes for a grumpy me.

The second change I would make is to change the ratio of meat to jelly.  I would use almost equal parts of both so that the head cheese holds together better.  For this attempt, I used about 80% meat and only 20% jelly.

The third change is to save the excess jelly in small frozen servings so I can add it to pasta water, soups, and just about anything that could do with a boost of flavour and nutrition.  There is a lot of books that claim meat jelly can do wonders for osteoarthritis, so I jump at any excuse to add bone broth or jelly to the diet.

Affordable?  The head was free, in fact, I only used about half the meat on it.  The jowls I froze for winter curing.  Spices, salts, &c. comes in at roughly $3.  The electrical bill on the other hand was up about $20, and we have cheap rates here.  This could easily have made double or triple the amount of headcheese if I had been brave enough to add more jelly.  Since this is so flavourful and a tiny bit of head cheese goes such a long way, I'm going to say yes, it's worth it.  If you have a woodstove, or some other way of cooking then yes, it can be quite affordable.

Healthy?  There is a lot of salt in this, but it is balanced out by not eating much at one time.  On the other hand, there are often great poetical treatise on how good bone jelly is for a person, so I'm going to say, yes, it's healthy in moderation.

I'm also going to add this under the label Transitional.  As in it is a good food skill to cultivate for that time in the future when oil is sparse and we are forced to rely on local resources.  It's a way of using every last part of the animal and what's more, it makes a little bit go a long way.

No comments:

Post a Comment