I never understood the knee-jerk revulsion that most Americans have towards head cheese. Is it the name? Is it the texture? is it bits of un-uniform meat suspended in an aspic?
Mention headcheese to your average friend. They’ll instantly say “Ewwww.” I’d bet that most people who think headcheese is disgusting had never actually tasted it.
There’s this really unattractive mentality among people about eating uncommon parts of an animal. Those people typically stick to hamburger and chicken breasts, and generally want their meat to be as separated from the idea of an animal as possible.
Maybe it’s time to lay some eduction on what head cheese is all about. Take it away, Wikipedia:
“Head cheese is a cold cut originating in Europe. Another version pickled with vinegar is known as souse. Head cheese is not a cheese but a terrine or meat jelly made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig (sometimes a sheep or cow), and often set in aspic. While the parts used can vary, the brain, eyes and ears are often removed. The tongue, and sometimes even the feet and heart may be included. Head cheese may be flavored with onion, black pepper, allspice, bay leaf, salt, and vinegar. It is usually eaten cold or at room temperature as a luncheon meat. It can also be made from quality trimmings from pork and veal, adding gelatin to the stock as a binder.
Historically meat jellies were made of the cleaned (all organs removed) head of the animal, which was simmered to produce stock, a peasant food made since the Middle Ages. When cooled, the stock congeals because of the natural gelatin found in the skull. The aspic may need additional gelatin in order to set properly.”
The way I see it, eating head cheese is a way to support responsible butchering. By using all the parts of the animal, you’re making the most of it. You’re also getting in touch with food that was created out of necessity.
I also think its so important to have an inherent link to the food and the animals we eat. It’s a privilege to eat them. We eat to stay alive, and we kill these animals for sustenance. To render them in a way that lets you forget that it was once a living, breathing, animal disconnects us from the significance of eating them.
The saddest part about this is that head cheese is delicious. You don’t need a well-developed palate for it; just an open mind. It’s savory, meaty, complex, and texturally interesting.
The photo above is a slice of “Topfsuelze” from archdukes of meat purveyors, Schaller & Weber. They have a few different species of head cheese at the shop, but this one is my favorite. I would venture to say it’s the most traditional of the headcheeses, made up of the parts of a pig’s head that are perfectly good for eating, but not sellable as prime cuts.
The vingar-y nature of the aspic (the gelatin) is something most people are rarely exposed to, and it compliments the various cuts of pork beautifully. The biggest favor you can do for yourself is to march over to Schaller & Weber and give head cheese a try. You might be suprised and fall in love. Or würst-case, you continue to say that it’s disgusting (but this time it’ll be justifiably so)