Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Head Cheese With Rosemary & Carrots

At the present moment, I'm nestled up in my parents' house up in Oregon getting all the wedding prep in order and anxiously awaiting Sunday afternoon, when I'll become a Mrs. It's crazy to think back to when I first got engaged a year and 9-odd months ago and how quickly the time has flown by. But after so many months of planning and prepping and waiting, I am so, SO ready, and all that currently rests between me and the big day are the mound of sweets my girlfriends and I are preparing for the dessert table (macarons, pie pops, and pavlovas! And my awesome dad is making his traditional baklava recipe. Thanks dad!)

But while I'm away making fancy dainty sweets, I am leaving you with a fancy but not-so-dainty recipe for head cheese. This post is definitely an adventurous one, and as a fair warning, this post does contain a picture of a pig's head...no longer attached to the body.

I'm sorry :(

But, it is the main ingredient so it's hard to demonstrate what to expect without having the head in there. Basically, head cheese is a chilled meatloaf made from boiled pig's head seasoned with herbs, spices, and vegetables. Normally all outer parts of the head are diced up and used, (skin, ears, cheek meat, etc, but not gums), so there's always a fun amount of texture in the slices depending on if you get a cartilage-y ear bit or not. You use the broth that you boiled the head in as the filler because it gelatinizes when chilled and has a wonderfully rich flavor to it. Once prepared, you can slice the head cheese and eat it on its own, or use it in sandwiches, (which is how I prefer to eat it. Head cheese club sandwich on sourdough = amazing).

If you buy headcheese at the market or a deli counter, it's usually ridiculously expensive, which is why I decided to make it myself. But as it turns out, it's ridiculously expensive because it's reallllly tedious to make. To clarify, it's not *hard* to make, there's just a lot of little steps that add up to a two-day process, and you also have to have a pot big enough to fit a whole pig's head in. Then you have to deal with a slippery boiled pig's head afterwards, which can be tricky to get out of the pot (but I'll go over tips for that later), and you have to be prepared to shave the head, which for me was definitely the weirdest part. (Never thought I'd say that last bit in a blog post)

BUT, once all is said and done and you're left with 4-5 loafs of perfect and delicious head cheese, you'll be a very happy camper. Especially since head cheese freezes very well, so you can wrap up a few logs tight and save them for a rainy day/fancy party, or fancy rainy day party. And as a side note, the amount of salt, spices, and vinegar listed below may seem like a lot, but when served chilled the flavors really mellow out so you need a little extra oomph in there to keep it nice and flavorful.

Also, the one mistake I made putting this together was that I did not put any weight on top of it when it was hardening up in the mould in the fridge, which is why my slices are a little chunky rather than smooth. The weight helps compact the meat and filling together to make a firmer, sturdier textured head cheese. But I included instructions on the weight here, so don't skip that step because it really helps make the head cheese much easier to slice.

Makes about 4-5 small loaves of head cheese.


Pig Boil

1 clean pig's head, shaved with brain removed
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
6 cloves minced garlic
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Head Cheese Filling

roughly 8 cups reserved pig boil stock
4 carrots, chopped into 1/2 inch thick pieces
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons salt
3 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh rosemary, finely chopped


1 large stock pot
4-5 loaf pans
plastic wrap
(8-10) 1 lb bags of dried beans or rice, to use as a weight

Boil the pig's head with 2 stalks celery, 1 carrot, 6 cloves minced garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme for 5 hours.

Turn off heat allow to cool until you're able to handle the head. Remove the head from the pot with a meat hook, or use a dough hook from your stand mixer to help secure a grip on it. Remove the meat from the head, then place the skull back in the pot and boil for another 5 hours.

After boiling the skull, remove it and then remove any large pieces/vegetables with tongs or a mesh ladle. The skull/vegetable bits can be discarded. Strain the rest of the liquid through a single sheet of cheesecloth and discard any particles that are stuck to the cheesecloth. Allow the strained liquid to cool to room temperature, then cover it and place it in the refrigerator overnight.

Cut/shred the meat into roughly 1-inch bits and place in a large casserole pan or bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, remove the liquid from the refrigerator and remove and discard the layer of fat that has collected on top (I did this using a large flat spoon).

Take 8 cups of the liquid and bring to a simmer. Add the chopped carrots, apple cider vinegar, salt, black pepper, and thyme. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then stir in the lemon juice and rosemary. Taste, add more salt if needed. It should taste a bit tangy and just slightly too salty. Add more seasonings if needed, then remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Now take the meat chunks out of the refrigerator and break them apart with your hands while juice is cooling. Then line a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish with plastic wrap, or (3) 4 x 12 inch loaf pans and add the meat pieces.

Pour over meat mixture, stir, and tap the loaf pan on a flat surface several time with force to help the liquid settle all the way through. Use the flattened palms of your hands to press down really hard on the meat and mixed veggies so that they're nice and compacted. If you now have extra space at the top of the loaf pan that's just liquid, add some more meat chunks and press down again. Lay another sheet of plastic wrap over the top, and then lay down 2 bags bag of dried beans or rice over the top to help apply pressure evenly on top of the loaf. Refrigerate overnight. Done!


  1. My Hungarian grandmother always made head cheese in the fall. I have yet to find a store bought version that can compete. I guess that happens with most things your grandmother or mother does. Great post here and it looks so good!

    1. Yes, it is very hard to compete with Grandma's cooking! And thank you so much :)

  2. I can just imagine all the excitement and sweetness around your home. Have fun, take it all in and the desserts, oh wow, that's a table I would be stuck to. ALL THE BEST.
    Omggg, this was an interesting post, beautiful pictures.

    1. Thank you so much Asha! Everything went perfectly and it was so much fun. I am so glad you enjoyed this post, too!

  3. I have always wondered about head cheese. Thank you for the amazing photos & instructions. Maybe one day I'll get the nerve to give this a try.

    1. Thank you! Let me know how you like it if you do, it is a lengthy process but the end results are so tasty!

  4. I have never tried head cheese, but my boyfriend told me about it, and I'm intrigued.

    1. It is a very unique treat, I definitely recommend trying it in a sandwich for the first time rather than a lonesome plain slice of it :)

  5. Kevin and I actually argued about what exactly headcheese is recently. I thought you just ate the meat right off the head, but Kevin thought it was just a terrine made from pork. So we were both a little right! That never happens.

    This is so epic. Way to just put the business on the street and showcase the actual pig's head. And the skull! Beautiful photos, as always.

    And congratulations!!! You're a married woman! I hope you're relaxing a little today!

    1. Thank you so much Brianne!! It was so, so much fun and I had a completely wonderful day. I keep replaying it all in my head...as you will soon too!! :D

  6. "Shaved and brain removed"... sounds like a dream... or like a blond cheerleader xD (oh gosh, sorry it was a mean cliché, but I laughed !)
    I also find kinda funny that your last post as a miss speaks of how to boil a pork head properly :) What a badass you are ! :D
    Thanks for this recipe anyway, I really don't think I'll try and make it, but it was kinda fascinating to see how Headcheeses are made !

    1. Glad you found it fascinating! It really is an old-school process, but it's fun to make recipes like this every once in a while :)

  7. The head cheese!!! :) You know that I have ZERO problems with the head pictures, and I'm so glad you included them (especially the one of the skull and jaw — amazing). (I pinned the picture of the whole head knowing it might attract some unhappy comments. It did from one person, so I got to speak my piece about the props-worthy practice of using all parts of an animal. Woop.)

    I've been waiting for Misery Loves Co. to do something with head cheese, but it has yet to appear on the menu as far as I've seen. Maybe this fall/winter! I DID get to have some crispy pig ear bits on a salad in the spring, and they were delicious as all hell.

    And congrats, Mrs. Married Lady!!! I saw a few pics on facebook, and the wedding looked so lovely and you looked beautiful! I can't wait to see more when you get the chance to compile a post. :)

    1. Awww thanks Carey! Yeah I was a little nervous about posting it but to me it is the same thing as posting a picture of a raw chicken or cut of steak, and in Greek culture we use all sorts of weird parts of animals, so I am completely on key with you in the "waste not want not" sentiment. We shouldn't be afraid to explore new recipes just because the ingredients are unusual or unattractive :)

      And OMG, if they made head cheese you can bet it would be the most amazing head cheese of all time. Jeremy made some crispy pig ear salad in the spring and it was SO tasty. Like pork rinds but more flavorful. I just love how crispy the fatty cartilage gets.

      I can't wait to see the finished photos of the big day, either! It was so much fun and I just had the most wonderful time. And when we got home last night your gift was waiting for us, thank you so so so much for all those cocktail goodies!!! We are so stoked to use them, and you can bet you'll be seeing that jigger and stirrer spoon in a post sometime soon :)

    2. You are SO welcome! (The barware items were totally calling my name, of course.) :) Oh! I don't know if there was mention of it in the package, but the shaker is on backorder until sometime in October. But yeah, that spoon and jigger are gorgeous, and I don't think any home should be without king cubes, ever. (I've seen people make them in muffin tins before, but I don't even know how I'd fit an entire muffin tin in my freezer.)

  8. Eva, as always great photos and very original! Here in Korea, many traditional markets have pig heads displayed for sale and many westerners (not all) express their disgust with them. I love the fact that you have an actual pig's head and skull and people sometimes think cooking great meals are always pretty and fancy and forget that some of the greatest meals are not always fluffy and cute. ^^ Amazing what something that looks so barbaric can turn out so beautiful in the end. Fantastic Photos!

    1. Thank you so very much, Paul. That means a lot :) And I couldn't agree more! One of my favorite foods is my Dad's grilled octopus, and while octopus certainly look pretty strange in a purple blob in a bowl, they taste amazing over a hot grill. Plus it's just fun to keep things interesting haha :)

  9. http://eat-in-morocco.blogspot.com/

  10. This looks incredible, I really shouldn't have read this because it will cause some problems with my sweet, vegetarian wife :)

  11. Haha, well let's hope she appreciates that at least the head is being used, rather than tossed in the trash. It's always a good way to get vegetarians to come around to appreciating head cheese :)

  12. Wow! I have never seen anything like that EVER. Thanks for sharing, it's quite something (except for vegetarians!).

  13. Congrats on your upcoming wedding! I love the fact that you have this old school mentality way of cooking that most women your age nowadays lack the essence and principle of good simple eating and cooking. To even see you interested in a the product of head cheese just boggles my mind. you know there is only a niche market that truly loves this and similar products as well. i am happy to associate wit you in out love of classical simple dishes made in the old ways. thank you for sharing

  14. This is hardcore home cooking. When I made tongue for the first time I kept thinking, "I can't believe I am boiling a tongue. Wait, now I am PEELING a tongue. I can't believe I am peeling a tongue..." but boiling and dissecting a pig's head takes it to a whole new level. I love head cheese and would definitely try this is given the opportunity.