Pork Head Cheese / Souse – Eating All the Bits

Yes, you are welcome to duck out of this post and go your merry way.  There will not be another offal/”awful” post again until the last week of this year.  Promise.  Trotters?  Those will appear just before New Years’, as apparently they may provide good luck. But, they won’t be alone – there’s plans for another dish that won’t have you running for cover, that also promises good luck.

At any rate, this is my Halloween post.  For those who don’t mind living (or at least, reading) dangerously!  And, you are in luck – NO photos of the head proper.  There are a lot of candy and cake ideas out there for this haunting season, so I’ve decided to post something without added sugars for the occasion.  

I get a meat share quarter or half a pig every few years of late, and very few people want to take ownership of the “weird bits” or offal.  Rather than waste this, I’ve selflessly (??)volunteered to take on some of these “weird bits” and cook them up, so the animal gets all his or her parts used.  PS: Head cheese is not remotely anything related to dairy.  It is head meat and perhaps other meats, cooked into gelatin, which may be obtained from head or trotter cartilage.  The best stuff, often referred to as souse, has vinegar.  But I’ve bought items labeled as “head cheese” that also had vinegar.  Frankly for me… the vinegar makes the dish.  The vinegar, the texture of the gelatin, and the taste of the meats therein.

head cheese, souse, offal, gelatin, recipe, vinegar

Head cheese, or perhaps souse. Or, both.

As an omnivore, I think one should not be entirely picky about parts to eat, and parts to trash.  This animal came from a real farm, not a factory facility, and I had obtained half of this porcine animal – and, you know, back in the day when I first discovered head cheese, I liked it.  I didn’t see the head, then, not up front and personal.

This farmer split the heads for the farm share pork into halves, and although I’d only ordered a quarter share of a pig, I ended up with 3 half heads (because I noted I wanted to try making head cheese).  Apparently with the folk I was going in on this with, heads weren’t popular?  Unfortunately, he cut off the cheek meat for some other purpose, but if you are interested in making this upcoming dish, try to get the cheek meat, too.   That’s regular muscle meat with some fat.  Often, butchers will turn that into bacon, along with belly meat.

He discarded the brain (fine by me) and I discarded the eye.  Yes, I DO have limits.  No eyes.   (This may date back to eye surgery when I was about six.  I still cannot stand watching anyone put in or take out contact lenses…  I shiver to the core!)  However there are people who have eaten eyes and survived… but I’ve never seen one in souse or head cheese (thankfully).

While I recommend eating or at least trying pretty much the whole animal, assuming one is an omnivore, since this dish is time-intensive, I’d seriously recommend trying head cheese or souse out somewhere before attempting to make it at home.  If you are going to spend this much time making something, know that you like it, first!   You can find it in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and I’ve seen recipes (but with less vinegar) from the British Isles, where it is often known as brawn.  This dish is also a feature of Germany, Latvia and other eastern European countries.

head cheese, souse, vinegar, gelatin, recipe, nose to tail, pork, trotter, pig's feet

Here, in this German photo uploaded to Wikipedia (by Rainer Zenz), most the meat is chopped a little larger than I did… I like it both ways. You will find a variety of seasonings in different regions, so feel free to dab into your pickling spice jar.

The roasted red pepper/pimento is not necessary, and indeed different cultures have differing seasoning profiles.  I was introduced to this dish WITH the roasted pepper, and it adds a good color, so I like to use it.

Okay, let’s just get into it, and stop freaking readership out:  (And again, I promise, no more offal for a couple months…)

Prep Time: 40 minutes 
Cook Time: 10-12 hours.
Rest Time: Enough to solidify and chill, probably 3 hours.  (I waited till morning…)
Serves:  8 or more.
Leftovers?:  Plenty.  Cover and refrigerate.  Or pack and freeze.
Cuisine:  Pennsylvania Dutch was my inspiration.

Head Cheese with Vinegar / Souse

First Step:

  •  1/2 pig’s head.  Remove brain if any.
  • 1 LARGE trotter/pig’s foot (or, two small ones)
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 3 or 4 stalks celery, chopped about two inch segments
  • 3 large cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Splash of vinegar, to pull out the nutrients into the broth.

Put the half a head and the trotter into a stock pot, and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes.

Remove from range, and pour out the water and reserve the head and trotter, rinsing them off with cold water to remove the greyish stuff that surfaced during this preliminary boil.  Clean out the stock pot, as well.  This stuff you are removing may make your final dish bitter.

Return head, trotter and fresh water to cover, to that stock pot.

Add in the rest of the above ingredients.

Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and allow to simmer for 3-4 hours.  Go have fun, read a book, chase your household cats around, do laundry…

Remove from heat.  As soon as meat is cool enough to work with (DO NOT DRAIN OFF THE STOCK!) remove from bones.  Keep some skin, all meat, veggie bits, and other parts (discard eye… please…).  Peel the tongue and discard the peel.  Return all bones and excess fat and collagen to the stock pot.

Return the stock pot with all its ingredients (minus the meats you removed) to a boil., reducing the stock to a simmer, covered.  Simmer anywhere from 6 to 9 hours – I chose 7 hours.

Meanwhile, you can chop up the meat, tongue, skin, and the collagen you reserved to small bits, maybe about 1/4 inch to 1/8th inch square.  No need for precision; it’s a very approximate volume.  If the ear is present, chop that in, too.  Remove the cartilage layer of the ear, and discard that, most of that will be too tough.  Alternatively pulse roughly in divided batches in a food processor – I opted not to do that because I didn’t want the meat too fine.  But it’s do-able!  (And, faster!)  Store in fridge.

After the long term simmer (which will draw out lots of thickening collagen from the bones), drain the stock through a sieve, retaining the broth, and discarding any bones.  You can keep remaining soft cartilage.   Allow the stock to cool enough to put in the fridge for several hours (overnight is best).

Second Step:

  • The stock from above
  • The meats from above
  • Start with 1/4 cup cider vinegar, adding more depending on taste.  (I used 1/2 cup.) 
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg (more or less)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder (more or less)
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (more or less)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (more or less)
  • 3.5-4 ounces / 90-100 grams of a jar of sweet roasted red peppers — or just roast up some yourself!  Chop pieces accordingly to be around the same size as the meat. 
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Note that the more or less will probably depend on how much stock you are able to render, and a LOT will depend on your taste buds and that resulting amount of meat and stock.

Remove fat that will have settled up to the top of the refrigerated stock, and discard.  You may also find pockets of fat on the meat portion; discard that as well.

Head cheese, souse, pork, nose to tail, trotter, pig's feet

Head cheese on that second step, with all the seasonings.

You may need to reduce your stock  to get a good solid-ish gelatin effect.  In any case, you’ll want to add everything back to the stock pot, including all the items from the Second Step, except the roasted pepper/pimento and the salt.  Start with 1/4 cup vinegar; I liked it best at 1/2 cup.  Go ahead and reduce the stock at a strong simmer, uncovered, to about ____ volume.   (Might be easiest to mark with a sharpie where you want the volume to reduce to, before you start).  You do not need to be exact, this WILL set up!

Chop up the roasted pepper / pimento to the same size as the meats, and add to the stock pot.  Mix in.   Taste.  Now you can add more of any ingredient you feel you are lacking, including the salt.

There are two ways of doing the final, Third Step:

In either case, prepare your pan or pans (a couple of meatloaf sized pans can work, or go bigger).

1:  Pour everything directly into a large pan, gently mixing with a spoon.

As the mixture cools and begins to gell, you can gently re-settle the meat and veggies with a spoon so that it more or less gells WITH the meat mixture… ie, there’s not a large layer of gelatin atop the meat, with no items in it.  Allow to cool enough to refrigerate.

2:  Strain the broth from the solids, and layer the meat mixture over the bottom of the pans of choice.

Pour the stock over the meat mixture in each of those pans until just covered.  Allow to cool enough to refrigerate.

Leftover stock?  Pour into a third pan of the same size, OR reserve for future soup.

Refrigerate overnight.  There may be a very fine layer of fat on top you can certainly remove.

You can slice and enjoy by the next day, and you can even wrap the head cheese / souse in meal sized portions  in plastic wrap, and freeze. At any rate, best served chilled.

Some people will serve on toast.  I’ve only ever eaten it as-is, the way Dad did.  He would enjoy it for breakfast.

Okay, here come the link parties, I hope they are ready for this!  It is something I enjoy eating, so if you get past the notion of where parts are coming from, you may enjoy it, too.

















About goatsandgreens

The foodie me: Low/no gluten, low sugars, lots of ethnic variety of foods. Seafood, offal, veggies. Farmers' markets. Cooking from scratch, and largely local. The "future" me: I've now moved to my new home in rural western Massachusetts. I am raising chickens (for meat and for eggs) and planning for guinea fowl, Shetland sheep, and probably goats and/or alpaca. Possibly feeder pigs. Raising veggies and going solar.
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13 Responses to Pork Head Cheese / Souse – Eating All the Bits

  1. I can’t duck out as I am a co-host for Fiesta Friday and I look at every link 🙂 This won’t get any points from me – I did kind of read over it. I remember seeing a pig’s head at the butcher once and I walked right out and went shopping somewhere else. Thanks for sharing (I think) 🙂 I do like your squash recipe a lot though!

    • Thanks, I think… No I didn’t expect this to get listed up anytime soon. But it’s good to use all the parts, if one can. But I get it, after all I don’t use the eye… 😉

  2. Irene says:

    I loved your post! In Mexico “queso de puerco”, literally “pork cheese”, is a standard amongst ham and salami loaves at the deli counter. You know what they say: “everything but the squeal” (and the eyes, maybe, I am with you on that, too, LOL)

  3. I’ve had head cheese. In Kansas, where I once lived, they sold it in your regular grocery stores, alongside cheeses and deli meat. I actually thought the vinegary/winey flavor was pretty good, but I didn’t fully appreciate the texture. If I can find it, I’ll be willing to give it a try again. I applaud you for using the parts of animals that would otherwise go to waste!

  4. Oh Diann, forgot to remind you that you’ll be cohosting tomorrow with Jenny @ Apply to face blog. I hope you remember! 😀

  5. helenfern says:

    My mother used to make this – and my dad devoured it!! Thanks for sharing at the What’s for Dinner party! Have a fabulous weekend and hope to see you back on Sunday!

  6. We can still get head cheese in the grocery store sold with the other lunch meats, and it was a fave of my grandma’s. It’s delish but rather daunting to make it, I think!! No one said it yet, the eyes have it, lol!

    • Lol, Eyes Have It… I have one more half a head to make, but will hold off for two or three months on it. Definitely time consuming and not something for a workday meal! (Although it does hold up for several days in the fridge.)

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