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Jan 14, 2014 08:36 PM

Let's talk about Head Cheese.

Inspired by the "Let's talk about Liverwurst" thread..

I freaking love head cheese. Why is it so underappreciated? It boggles my mind that people will buy metric tons of shitty "ham product" for their sandwiches while the mighty head cheese seems to be disappearing. And like it's neglected cousin liverwurst, head cheese is one of the cheaper cuts available at the deli. Win!

With (cheap) ham the entire slice is the same ham mush, whereas with head cheese you never know what texture awaits your next bite. My favorite is the gelatin holding everything together, of course. Of all the cold cuts out there, this is my #1 pick for eating straight up. I don't want the different textures to get lost with bread and condiments.

How do *you* like your head cheese? What's the best head cheese you've had?

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  1. The best I've ever had is Boar's Head, but it isn't cheap, at something like $8 per pound.

    Other than that, I've had "mystery meat" in Vietnamese banh mi subs that is probably similar to head cheese. Great sandwiches, but the meat isn't as tasty as the Boar's Head stuff.

    1. Just thinking about making head cheese. Was looking at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook website for their recipe. Looked good.

      2 Replies
      1. re: emglow101

        I'd encourage you to make it.
        You can go the traditional route and boil up a pig head, but its sometimes difficult to get.
        You can get excellent results with pigs feet (and/or hocks)as well.

        1. re: porker

          I talked to my local butcher today. I can get a whole pigs head no problem. I am going to make head cheese in a couple weeks. This is exciting.

      2. I had to Google "head cheese" as I don't think I've come across the term before. I see it's what I would call "brawn".

        It's a fairly generic product, usually available at cooked meat stalls in markets, rather than more easily available in supermarkets.

        The best I know is a bit different from brawn, as it uses a bigger variety of meats and they are in bigger chunks in the jelly. It's potje vleesch (in Flemish). Always served with fries and a leaf salad.

        1. "whereas with head cheese you never know what texture awaits your next bite


          the gelatin holding everything together"

          are the two reasons head cheese makes me gag, always has. I have texture issues.

          My father (solidly in the OP's camp) loved it and thought I was crazy for not liking it.

          6 Replies
          1. re: cleobeach

            This is it! My entire family adores head cheese and I have tried to share their love but it really is not my thing.

            I have been searching the head cheese circles of this lack of love for a buddy and finally found you cleob!

            1. re: HillJ

              I'm here for you Hill!

              I don't even like typing about head cheese. The thought of Jello makes me gag. Imagining the thought of "surprise texture" meat makes me want to cry a little.

              (I also dislike all forms of offal, which will probably get me kicked off CH.)

              1. re: cleobeach

                Thanks cleob! I was feeling a tad lonely :)

                1. re: HillJ

                  Count me in too. For me it's not the different textures of meat but the gelatin - I'm just not a fan of aspic in general, especially in savory flavors. I love liverwurst and other things of that ilk, just not headcheese.

              2. re: HillJ

                Me too. My parents loved it and served it as "veal loaf" to we unsuspecting children...

                I love, love love aspic. But I hate greasy weird bites of mystery meat.

                So if we are all served this, I will eat the gelatine part and y'all can eat that "meat"

                1. re: C. Hamster

                  Interesting. I have never thought of one (gelatin) without the other (meat). Never got that far!

                  Veal loaf, huh. My Uncle use to call pork rinds (another food I'm on the fence about) crisps in order to stop us kids from asking him once again how do they make those?!

            2. Headcheese is still widely available in South Louisiana and, except for a few years of being almost underground in some cities, has never vanished. The young, trendy chefs in New Orleans have been making their own...I think it provides a sense of :adventure" for visitors although the stuff is available in Cincinnati and Pittsburg and elsewhere. Over the years I have had several favorites, many of which are gone. The local commercial versions are not that good but they must appeal to such a broad base I suppose it cannot be helped. just now there are a couple of country stores in Acadiana that I go to, a place in St James Parish near New Orleans (the alst batch from them bought last week, was not up to their usual standards) and a superb brick from Armond's in Slidell which is the present reigning champion.

              many people use crackers but I just eat it straight, Occasionally I will put a little horseradish on it as Russian do with Kholodetz (tongue in aspic).

              27 Replies
              1. re: hazelhurst

                I grew up on it knowing head cheese as "souse". Ate it w/ my dad on saltine crackers and the souse dipped in vinegar.

                Today it doesn't look like I remember (too much gelatin). Then, a couple of years ago, I found some that looked "right". lol! Got home and tasted it, taste wasn't like I remembered. :(

                1. re: chloebell

                  Stores in Nashville offered commercially-produced head cheese AND souse, the apparent difference being that souse had only chopped ears and the like while Head cheese had some muscle meat as well. I don't know if these are still available; when we returned after a two-year absence I was saddened to see how Yankeefied the meat departments had become.

                  Here in Los Angeles County we can get the old-fashioned style head cheese; there's also a Russian sausage company that makes a version, but the spices they use in it are the same as what flavors their hot dogs!

                2. re: hazelhurst

                  We were in Acadiana just before Xmas.
                  Although I didn't visit THAT many "specialty meat" joints, I did not see mom&pop (homemade) versions of headcheese.
                  I did buy the commercial Richard's cajun head cheese. It may have traded true taste for mass appeal, but I liked it anyway!

                  1. re: porker

                    Richard's is better than most commercial versions but you should go up into Evangeline Parish and get the lighter colored stuff up there that is made in big loaf pans and cut out in almost-white bricks.

                    For years the Clerk-of-Court's wife in St James' made great headcheese that you could buy at the courthouse or at the late Breezeway Bar on River Road.

                    1. re: hazelhurst

                      Now you tell me!
                      It would seem we breezed by these places (@ St. James)while heading back to NO on the 61....

                  2. re: hazelhurst

                    In 1963-64 I had a friend in the USAF from Norco,LA. at the Bonne Carre Spillway. There was a place named the Spillway bar where we would get big bricks of the best HHC I ever had and take it back to Keesler Field in Biloxi.
                    You brought back some great memories. Haven't found any as good since but I haven't checked out the specialty meat stores in Acadiana. The ones that advertise on KBON-Louisiana Proud!

                    1. re: redstickboy

                      I was scant miles from the Spillway bar last night. Went to Schexnayder's in Back Vacherie and got a couple of bricks of their "hot" hogshead cheese. I am snacking on some pieces right now. it is fairly zippy stuff and has a very good gelatin flavor. I'd rank it amoung the bestter ones I have had in the last year.

                      Someone down thread referred to trouble finding tongue. I can get it at Asian stores sometimes and almost always at rural sotres or sometimes at so-called low-income stores..I guess the theory is that folks without much money will eat the offal? I love tongue--and tripe etc and will drive around to find it. It may not be procurable everywhere but I'd bet unless one lives in Plasticville USA there is someone somewhere with kidneys, tripe and even brain.

                      1. re: hazelhurst

                        Good point about the Asian stores for tongue -- I will try that. I love tripe too, though not prepared the way most people do in the UK, with milk and onions, yuk, but either as the French do, a la mode de Caen, or, and I think I invented this, cut into thin small strips, rolled in flour (I use polenta/fine maize flour) well season with mild paprika and salt and then either deep fried or cooked crispy in a single layer in a hot cast-iron range (Aga).

                        1. re: ppb

                          Try tripe in a soup, Slavic style. Just the thing on a cold night.(Any slavic soup is good for that, though)

                          1. re: hazelhurst

                            I don't have a recipe for Slavic soup... Bear in mind that I live in the UK most of the year, only spend about three months of the year in FL. My husband is American but his repertoire is very mid-west based and entirely unethnic. Can you give me a few pointers pls? I'm guessing this has nothing to do with borscht!

                            1. re: ppb

                              I can look it up although I am sure there are some online,. the best I ever had was by a Czech friend who has me over because his wife doesn't really like it and he wants someone to enjoy it with. I am not sure if any of my Russian cookbooks--of which I have about ten--has it.

                              1. re: ppb

                                I just called my friend and got a general recipe although the amounts are vague. But for one pound of tripe he said use a large onion, five or six crushed cloves of garlic, at least a tablespoon of paprika. Celery or other vegetables are optional but he said in the 1930s whatever was growing in the yard was fair game.

                                Wash tripe well. Sprinkle salt on it and rub well, letting sit, moist, in a bowl for a few minutes. Wash again vigorously. bring to a boil with plenty of water to cover.. After an hour, pour off this water and slice tripe into soup-sized pieces, then return to the pot with more water to cover..this amount of water will be your soup liquid, allowing for some boil off. This simmering will require at least 90 minutes more. (You may add salt pork or bacom to this liquid). Render bacon or pork or melt butter (about one can comine lard/butter if desired) and fry onion until soft, add garlic at end. sprinkle flour over this mixture at ratio of about one-to-one and cook until light golden. Separately fry the paprika in butter, being careful not to burn..just "toast" it. Add some of the hot tripe liquid to the flour amalgam. Add paprika glop to that, mix well and keep hot. Add tripe and liquid to the whole and cook for about half-hour, testing tripe for doneness.
                                Some people add marjoram he said. OK with/OK without. Some Poles use dill, he said. Finish with a bit of lemon. Sometimes he adds cream, sometimes a dollop of sour cream. Nothing too hard and fast. But, as with kidney soup (see rassonlik) you have to treat the tripe properly first.

                                1. re: hazelhurst

                                  Thanks very much for taking the trouble to get this. I'll most certainly give it a try :-)

                                  1. re: ppb

                                    Hope it is not too vague (although most Slavic cooking is, in my experience, fairly basic "eyeball it" stuff). Let me know how it turns out. And nothing is cast in stone so go ahead and add star anise or whatever strikes you.

                                    1. re: hazelhurst

                                      No, that'll be fine, thanks a lot -- I don't often follow a recipe exactly anyway. The last time I made tripes a la mode I just did it from guesswork. I may not be able to make it right away as I can't always get decent tripe here (in the East Midlands of the UK). It's much easier to get in the north and is of a far better quality, and much whiter, than in the south where, if you can get it at all, it's a disgusting yellow colour. Another thing I often have to order is lambs' brains and hearts (I'm going to try the grilling suggestion for hearts that the Hunt etc site suggests for venison hearts but use lambs' hearts instead. Stuffing them is too fiddly). Does anyone cook sweetbreads these days -- I love them too.

                                      1. re: ppb

                                        I've eaten sweetbreads since I was a boy 50+ years ago. In New Orleans we always had them in the old line places (and Antoine's used to get tripe for my father). [Yellow tripe sounds revolting..just yesterday I saw some very nice white tripe in Vacherie Louisiana, about thirty miles north of NOLA.] And before New York City turned its back on its good ethnic cookery..sometime in the 1960s/ could get all kinds of offal (and skate) in little markets around Manhattan. It has been rediscovered and people find themselves monstrously adventurous.

                                        1. re: hazelhurst

                                          We had skate wings last night with beurre noisette and caper sauce. Utterly delicious. You can get them in the decent mainline supermarkets here in the UK now (I'm guessing you were talking about the fish), but no supermarket sells offal here apart sometimes from kidneys. Fortunately we still have butchers' shops. I've never seen skate on sale in the US but some of the supermarkets sell offal of course. Where I live in FL we do have an independent Italian butcher, but he doesn't seem to sell offal.

                                          1. re: ppb

                                            Skate is hard to find in the US and often, when found, is going off disastrously. In 1960s NYC it was always as "raie au beurre noir" (which I think I last had in a restaurant at Green's in London). I get it from fisherman friends who've been taught how to handle the wings and I can get it in fairly short order. Of course, there is the school of thought that the beurre noir treatment arose to cover up the developing ammoniac does go off rather quickly..but I love that preparation.

                                            There is a rural meat market I was looking for yesterday with a friend but he was stubborn and searched the wrong road until the place was likely closed. But I am told that it is the kind of place where the cattle and pigs walk in the back door and go out the front in shopping bags. I expect they'll have all kinds of good offal. The place I fell back on for headcheese is the one that had tripe.

                                            1. re: hazelhurst

                                              I didn't know that about skate. It fell out of favour here for a couple of decades but is now quite popular again. I don't know how else to prepare it except with capers and beurre noire or noisette. The fish itself takes literally about 2 mins in my Aga. Good luck with finding the meat market another time. Sounds like a trip down memory lane.

                                              1. re: ppb

                                                My Italian friend used to chop skate wing into 2"x2" pieces on the bone, toss in flour seasoned with tumeric and salt and deep fry. Then he'd put the pieces in a pickle (vinegar + water). A pickled fish snack.

                                                In summer, I'll grill skate wing - kinda like a poor man's lobster.

                            2. re: ppb

                              I'm not sure your tongue is the same as the asian store tongue....
                              I'm a fan of the gellied meats as you describe below, including gellied tongue. Some folks simply call this "tongue" and I never really saw this in an asian store.

                              What I *do* find are actual pork tongues (and other assorted offal). I buy tongue from these places when making pickled tongue or the gelatina.

                              1. re: porker

                                I do not recall seeing the jellied tongue in an Asian store but I have seen the raw product. Laotians like it. Also, my Lebanese friends make it in the non-jellied form which is how I grew up eating it.

                                I am a great fan of the Russian version is jelly, too.

                                1. re: hazelhurst

                                  Yes, porker, sorry, I wasn't thinking I could be introducing confusion: when I first mentioned tongue I was thinking of the jellied pressed version sold as cold cuts, though I have in the past bought the raw whole tongue, cooked it and pressed it myself without the addition of jelly. Whole tongues, raw or pressed tend to be sold in small butcher's shops around Christmas time here in the UK, and beef tongue would be used. I've never seen pork. It is this kind of pressed cooked tongue that I would slice thickly and simmer in red wine with a few sliced mushrooms and a handful of raisins for the German dish Zunge in Rotweinsosse. Great with mash.
                                  The pickled battered fish is also interesting -- I dimly remember eating something like this when I lived in Germany though it wasn't skate.

                                  1. re: ppb

                                    UK supermarkets usually stock both beef and pork tongue, ready sliced for sandwiches.

                                  2. re: hazelhurst

                                    Btw, I have an old American recipe for mincemeat (the stuff that goes in mince pies) which uses cooked tongue as the meat element, which is of course usually omitted today. We bought the fresh tongue, cooked the whole thing from scratch and it was delicious, but most people couldn't tell the difference. We gave up, discouraged, after a few years.

                              2. re: hazelhurst

                                In my area in the NYC 'burbs the price has shot through the roof for tongue the past 6-7 years. Fresh raw or smoked tongue costs around $20-30 each.

                            3. re: hazelhurst

                              Actually the version at Terranovas is pretty good. So is the Creole Country one. All is not lost.