Inspired by a recipe from the 1920’s, this Hog Head Cheese recipe makes for a tasty, yet unusual appetizer.
Hog Head Cheese. Gelatinous, packed with often discarded pork parts, not actually a cheese…that doesn’t sound appetizing. So why make it? One, homemade Hog Head Cheese is truly delicious and unlike anything you’ll find in stores. Two, the process of making it is a bonding experience for the whole family!
Hog Head Cheese (also known as Brawn) originated in Medieval Europe. Traditionally it was served cold, before a holiday meal, with a side of mustard for slathering on the congealed appetizer. 1
While it was once common and even considered a delicacy in the middle and upper classes, few eat it regularly in the United States today. 2
If you do have a desire to eat a thick slice of the fatty, gelatinous, pork terrine, you have a few options. You could go to Europe where, according to Steen Bjorn Hanssen at Serious Eats, Hog Head Cheese continues to be a popular meal at lunch with a delicious beer. Or, hunt down one of the amazing shops in New Orleans that still makes it, namely Cochon Butcher. Your last option is to make it…like I did!
My adventure of making Hog Head Cheese started with my 1928 copy of the Picayune Creole Cook Book. I asked my Grandpa Al, who was born and raised in New Orleans, to skim the book to see if anything reminded him of his childhood.
Of course there was a recipe for Hog Head Cheese and gramps was excited to see it. His Grandmother Alice Esquiano de Landro made it during his youth. Back then gramps would be given the tedious task of picking the meat from the cooked pig’s head. He hated the process but loved the end result.
Loving tradition, gramps and I decided making Hog Head Cheese would be a fun recipe to make together. Little did I know how much of a process it was going to be!
Here are some highlights:
-I bought half a frozen pig head from a hispanic market. They laughed at me when I first asked for it but took me seriously when I didn’t leave the meat counter.
-Gramps hunted down the largest pot we could find (it needed to fit half a pigs head!). Luckily my parent’s neighbor has restaurant-sized cookware that he graciously let us use!
-We boiled the pork meat and veggies to make a stock…for four hours.
-When the meat was falling off the bones gramps and I started picking the meat, skin, and fat off the bones (sorry for making you help in this step gramps!)
-When we started reducing the stock I began stressing out. We still had a few hours of work and I even started cooking dinner for my family like I promised.
-Without asking, the rest of my loving family jumped in to help out! We finished the process together by filling the ramekins up and finding room in the packed fridge for them (sorry Lynn!).
-Then we made dinner 🙂
There was definitely some tension during the process (mainly…mostly…actually completely coming from me, the at times inpatient control freak), but it was also filled with smiles, laughter, and the making of fond memories.
Would I go through the process again? Absolutely! The end result of the lengthy process is naturally gelatinous, fatty, meaty, tangy, spicy, and rich…nothing like you can find in stores. I’ll do it on a smaller scale next time though 😉
Do you have a recipe that is time-consuming and an “all hands on deck” project, but makes for great memories? Let me know what those recipes are in the comments below or share your stories on the Cup of Zest Facebook Page!
This recipe for Hog Head Cheese is technically a souse because of the vinegar we added. For a huge list of Hog Head Cheeses around the world, check out this wikipedia entry about head cheese.
Finding a pig’s head can be an interesting task. I ended up making my purchase at a hispanic market, but if you have the time, I strongly suggest hunting one down from your local butcher. It will be high quality and you may even be able to find one that was humanely slaughtered.
There is no way to get around it…this recipe is going to make a lot of Hog Head Cheese. You could wrap up the little ramekins and give them as gifts with some nice crackers…or wrap them well to freeze! I have two loaves in my freezer now.Print
This Hog Head Cheese recipe is a tasty yet unusual appetizer, inspired by a recipe from the 1920’s that sure has a bite!
- 1/2 hog’s head, cleaned (about 5 pounds)
- 2 pounds halved pork feet, cleaned (about 2 feet)
- 2 pounds pork neck bones
- 2 pounds pork shoulder
- 6 green onions, cut in half
- 2 large onions, quartered
- 2 large carrots, cut into 2-inch chunks
- 2 large stalks celery, cut into 2-inch chunks
- 2 large lemons, quartered
- 10 cloves garlic, smashed
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
- 10 sprigs thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- 3 star anise
- 2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
Hog Head Cheese
- 7 cups of reserved stock
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 large onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 large stalk celery, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons hot smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup green onions, thinly sliced
- 1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- For the stock, place all pork meat and bones into a huge stock pot. Top with green onions, quartered onions, carrot and celery chunks; lemons, garlic, salt and cayenne.
- Place thyme, bay leaves, star anise, and peppercorns into a piece of cheesecloth and tie it closed with butchers twine. Tie the loose end of the twine to the handle of your pot and place the packet into the pot (when you are done cooking, you can easily remove the herb packet).
- Fill the pot with enough water to cover the stock ingredients by 4-inches.
- Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the meat falls off the bone, about 4 hours. As needed, skim and discard any froth that rises to the surface during the simmer.
- Once the meat is falling off the bone, carefully separate it from the stock.
- Pull all of the meat, fat, and skin from the bones. You should end up with about 2 cups of skin and fat (measured together), and 7 cups of meat. Cut the skin into 1-inch pieces and shred any large pieces of meat. Mix the skin, fatty pieces, and meat together. Set aside.
- Once the stock is cool enough to handle safely, strain 7 cups of it and place into a medium pot.
- Add the remaining head cheese ingredients, except for the thinly sliced green onions and chopped parsley.
- Bring to a boil and continue to boil until reduced by half, about 30 minutes.
- While the stock and veggies reduce, prepare your ramekins. Lightly spray each ramekin with nonstick spray.
- Evenly distribute the cooked pork between the ramekins adding the green onions and parsley throughout the meat. Make sure to place the meat into the ramekins parallel to the longest side of the ramekin. It will help with slicing the set Hog Head Cheese.
- Once the stock has reduced by half, evenly distribute between the filled ramekins and chill overnight.
- When ready to serve, run a knife around the edges of the ramekin. If the hog head cheese is difficult to remove, warm the outsides of the ramekins with hot water. You should be able to flip the ramekin upside down on a plate to release it.
- Serve with extra salt, crushed red pepper, apple cider vinegar, and mustard on the side. Best eaten on your favorite cracker.
Inspired by the 1928 [u]Picayune Creole Cook Book[/u]