Making head cheese today - bristles on or off?

My friend just gave me two fresh pig heads for helping her on the farm. So I figure, why not make headcheese.

The heads still have all the nasty hairs on them. Should I try to remove them somehow before working with it or will it magically go away when it's boiled? Any recomendations on how to remove the bristles? I have a butane torch, but would it make the meat taste/smell bad?

Also, what do you think - use the jowls for the cheese or save them for Guanciale? Never tried Guanciale before, but it looks like it would be tasty.



trampledbygeese July 29, 2014
I finally got my head cheese blogpost written. It doesn't go into huge detail, mostly because I have so many vegan friends. It's more a 'hey look, it's possible and here are some things I thought about doing it' kind of post. I didn't see how to write an article for this site, and besides, some poor editor would have a fit if they had to deal with my spelling.
Brady K. July 29, 2014
awesome, awesome, awesome. Thanks for sharing, both the blog and in this thread!
trampledbygeese July 29, 2014
Thanks Brady Klopfer. It was a fun learning experience. Even better was having all the encouragement from the people here. Thanks guys for cheering me on.
trampledbygeese July 15, 2014
Served up a small sample of the head cheese to some friends tonight. It's not quite set yet, but according to these head cheese aficionados, it tastes like head cheese. Not just any head cheese, but traditional head cheese from Europe.

I have to say I'm thrilled they like it! I really hope they weren't just being polite. I'm so use to making my own food from scratch these days that I don't know what the normal version tastes like anymore. But they went back for seconds, so I'm going to assume they are telling the truth.

I like the flavour and texture too, but for me it is more like potted meat instead of what I remember head cheese tasting/texture-ing like. It's like I imagine rouletts (or however you spell them) taste like, only with jelly-broth instead of fat.

That gives me an idea for this large leg of old goat that's been sitting in the freezer for ages... hmmm, I wonder if I can talk my friends into parting with their trotters then I could make a bunch of potted goat jelly stuff... Only I don't eat much meat a week, so I would have to freeze or preserve them somehow. I wonder if I could pressure can them? Maybe I should just stick to fat... I don't know.

I'm off to open a glass of wine and pour over some good books. There has to be something I can do with the angry old goat's leg.

trampledbygeese July 15, 2014
ops, pour a good glass of wine and open my books... although I suppose it could work the other way.
Susan W. July 15, 2014
Ooo...I can picture the flavor. Like uncured pork belly. I think true carnitas starts with a braise.
Susan W. July 14, 2014
I think two tsp of chili flakes is more like 4 small dried chilis. Also, you never know how spicy a chili is until you taste it.

The broth..when I make my stocks, they don't become gelatinous until chilled. You can use it in soups and sauces. Just dilute with water. How porky does it taste? Maybe make a pork chili verde and use the gelatin/stock. Yum!!
trampledbygeese July 15, 2014
Thanks for the tips. The broth has a mild pork flavour, almost like a hint of unsmoked bacon.
trampledbygeese July 14, 2014
Thank you everyone for your encouragement.

I boiled down the broth till it was about 1/10th it's volume... maybe too much as it's fairly salty, but that's what it took to get the jelly consistency to work. Next time I'll stop earlier and maybe use a packet. Or better still find some trotters to cook with the heads to make more jelly enter the broth. (sadface, my friends kept the trotters).

I just finished mixing the final spices in with the meat and then putting it in the clearwrap lined baking tin.

Snacking on the meat and the broth/jelly makes me think that it's going to be very spicy... the recipe said two teaspoons of chili flakes so I used two dried chillies - that's close-ish, right? Also, had to guess what 1/8th a tsp of ground mace looks like when it's whole.

The times I tried to eat store bought head cheese I don't remember them being salty or spicy, but that's what I have. Maybe that's why I don't like the commercial or artizan head cheese. Or maybe I just can't get over my childhood predigest against savoury jelly.

Since I don't like the jelly part as much as the meat part, I crammed in the meat so I didn't need as much jelly. I put a layer of jelly down, half the meat, mashed it together, another layer of jelly, the rest of the meat, more mashing, very slight topping of jelly. Hopefully this will make a good texture.

The rest of the jelly is in the fridge. There's over two cups of super-concentrated jelly liquid left over, any thoughts on what to do with it?

At this stage, I'm asking myself if I would make this again. Maybe. A lot of that depends on how much I like the final dish. If I do I won't make it in the summer unless absolutely necessary. It's nice to have the skill to utilize otherwise wasted cuts of meat. Given how much meat is on the heads and how healthy the jelly is for us, I'm thinking that maybe I'll do it again.

Calculating it out, I'm thinking about $2 for the brine ingredients, heads were free, another $1 for the spices, and about $20 added to the electric bill. Roughly 8 hours of my time spread over 3 days - but if I were to do this again, it would probably be 3 to 4 hours now that I know the bone structure and bristle removing methods for a pigs head.
trampledbygeese July 14, 2014
edit to the second paragraph: ...maybe use a packet of commercial gelatin.
caninechef July 14, 2014
I am so impressed. I bet there is a food52 article in this experience if you re so inclined.
trampledbygeese July 14, 2014
Apparently my current slow cooker isn't anywhere near as hot as my old one. I expected the broth to be reduced by half by now. Instead, it's only about 1/4 less. I wonder if the layer of fat on top is making it difficult for the moisture to evaporate.

I have lots to do this morning, so I'll just skim off the fat now and proceed to the next step after lunch.
trampledbygeese July 14, 2014
Next stage, removing the meat from the bones.

The meat fell from the bones with great ease. As I expected, most of the meat was in the tongue and around the jaw. The tongue meat was very tender and just fell apart in my hands. I usually hate tongue, but I have to admit most of it went in my tummy today.

The biggest problem at this stage was separating all the fat from the meat. The ratio was about 1 part meat for 4 parts fat. But still, enough meat to make it worth my while.

The bit of jowl I left on was worthless. There was just too little meat.

Head cheese doesn't have lumps of fat in it, does it?

The cure had #1 curing salt in it for a bit of colour, but I forgot and added it to the brine while it was still warm. So some of the meat is rosy, some pale, some greyish and some charcoal. I was very selective and only choose the nice looking bits.

Originally I thought to include thin slices of ear - but I remembered the artizan headcheese I tasted once and I remember hating the cartilage from the ear slices. I did chew on a bit of ear while I was working and it's okay. More suitable to a starvation situation than a dinner plate in my opinion.

Took about 20 min to get the meat off, and an hour to clean up after.

Half the broth is in the fridge, the other half in the slow cooker on high with a wooden spoon propping up the lid. Hopefully the slow cooker will simmer down the broth so that it makes a nice jelly like substance.

After tasting the meat and enjoying the smell of the broth I think this might actually work...maybe...
Susan W. July 13, 2014
Oooo..thanks for the update. I'm looking forward to hearing about the results.
Greenstuff July 13, 2014
Thanks for the blow by blow. Can't wait for then next installment.
trampledbygeese July 13, 2014
Glad to entertain. I make no promises that this will actually turn out to be edible.
trampledbygeese July 13, 2014
I decided to boil up the head cheese today. My largest pot barely fits it all. I'm actually only using one skull, the other I sent to a friend who wanted it. But I took all the easy to remove flesh off it first. So my pot contains, 4 ears, one skull and all the meat on it (minus brains), and most of the meat from the second skull.

As it heated, the liquid had a lot of froth on top which I skimmed off. The liquid is quite muddy in colour. I hope it clears up later as I have never seen muddy headcheese before.

It's so late in the day by the time the water boiled, I don't think I'll have a chance to reduce the stock. So I think I'll put it in the slowcooker with the lid propped up so it can reduce while I sleep.
Pegeen July 13, 2014
Applause for you! That's a labor of love. I asked my father, who grew up on a farm, and he had a hybrid answer of scalding and then using a straight razor. Guanciale is fantastic. You will have to look up some good recipes. I think there are a few on this site and I've seen others on Epicurious, etc.
ChezHenry July 13, 2014
Do what you would do if your bristles get out of hand, and shave them! Not kidding here. Fergus Henderson provides this tip in his fantastic Nose to Tail cookbook, and it worked brillantly for me. A disposable razor, no shaving cream needed, and you will have pigs cheeks as smooth as a babys bottom. Hands down the way to go.
trampledbygeese July 13, 2014
I actually tried shaving some overly harry pork belly skin once, but with only moderate success. It looked like all the hairs were gone, but once the crackling was cooked, the skin retracted and there was unpleasant stubble left. Apparently using heat to remover the hairs shrinks the skin a bit so you can get more of the hairs out. So for me, I think shaving's good in a pinch, but not prefered. Maybe I needed a better raisor?
Susan W. July 12, 2014
You are sturdier than I am. I skeeve pretty easily, but I agree, you honored those animals. I hope you report back and boast about the finished product.
trampledbygeese July 12, 2014
Thank you. I didn't know where to ask as some forums get unpleasant when I talk about working with unusual animal bits. So glad to find like minded people here. I'll let you know how it goes. I have major doubts as to how this will go, but I've gone this far and got the worse of it done, so I'll see it through to the end.
It's the first time I've been able to work with an animals head without tossing my cookies - I also didn't eat anything but water and salt (heat wave, so need salt) till after 5pm today, so there wasn't anything to 'toss'. In many ways I'm thankful these aren't my pigs. Though I've managed to raise goats and sheep for slaughter, pigs are too expressive, too much like people.
trampledbygeese July 12, 2014
Well, it took 6 hours, but we are finally finished the first step.

Here's what I learned:

-Yes, take the bristles off.
-Scalding the skin in hot/boiling water for about 15 to 20 seconds then scraping with a knife, works okay for getting the hair/bristles off the skin, so long as you have lots of time and elbow grease.
-Fire is faster. I dug out my butane torch and singed the hairs, scraped, singed, scraped... and so on and so forth until the hairs were gone and the skin was back to a beautiful pink.
-the skull of a pig is incredibly thick in places, thus difficult to saw through.
-grossest thing was the eyes. All those books and movies that say you can gouge out an eye with a spoon lie. Took me 15 min per eye to get it out. Very disgusting.
-the skin/bristles dull the knife faster than cutting paper. Have a stone handy.

Have the bits brining now. Since I discarded brain and eyes, I hope it's okay to the heads in the brine till Monday morning (36 hours instead of 24 the recipe recommends). I know I can just boil without brining, but it's too hot here to do more than one big task a day. So I'm using the headcheese recipe from 'In The Charcuterie'.

Also, I took off the jowls and will put them in the freezer to use for Guanciale. Never tried that before, but looks like it will be delicious.

The only other thing I can say is: There is one heck of a lot of meat on a pigs head, especially if it still has the jowls attached. I'm so glad I took them home rather than my friends tossing the heads out. 'though, I don't know if I'm up for making head cheese again - just working with a face of an animal that was alive a few hours ago... is really uncomfortable. I feel good to honour the animal by using every possible part, but also weirded out by it too.
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