When life hands you lemons, make lemonade (or a super-lit visual album). When life hands you a pig’s head, it would behoove you to make head cheese or souse—two closely-related, rustic meat loaves made by boiling down a pig’s head, tucking the scraps into a mold, chilling, slicing, and serving. How this pig’s head happens to trot on into your life, that’s your business. Pig heads happen. They’re not an anomaly. There’s pretty much one per every four legs and splendid belly, and it would be a terrible shame to waste one—especially when there’s so much rich, succulent meat in there, plus the bones. My god. The bones.
A head is chock-a-block with bones, and simmering them down for a few hours brings out the rich gelatin that binds the meat together. That’s plenty of people’s nexus of yuck when it comes to head cheese (which BTW, involves no dairy) and souse (which is pretty much just head cheese with extra vinegar), but if you’re down with bone broth, you’re halfway there. It’s all just meat water at various levels of gelatinousness, but then again, so are we, man. So are we.
Photo by Vikif viia Getty Images
BASIC HEAD CHEESE
1 pig's head, split
2 pig's feet
2 tablespoons allspice
2 bay leaves
Hot sauce or chile flakes
1 pig's head
6 pig's feet
6 pork hocks
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 onions, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 blade mace
1/4 cup cider vinegar
How to Make It
Basic Head Cheese
Place the head and feet in a large stockpot and cover it with water. Boil until the meat falls off the bones. Remove meat and bones from the water.
Mince the meat finely, picking out any small bones or excess fat. Refrigerate the liquid and the meat overnight, then skim off grease.
Boil the liquid down until there is just enough to cover the meat. Add the meat, vinegar, and seasonings to taste. It should be slightly thick after the meat is added.
Pour into molds and chill until jelly forms and it is firm enough to slice.
Split the head in half, and place all of the pig parts in a large pot with enough water to cover them. Add the salt and pepper, bring the water to a boil, and cook the meat until tender.
Remove the meat from the water and cool. When the meat has cooled, pick it off the bones and chop it into small pieces. Add the spices to the liquid and boil until it's reduced by half. Strain, cool, and skim the fat.
Put the meat, fat, and vinegar in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, pour it into a mold and add as much of the spiced liquid as the container can hold.