Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hog's Head Cheese: A Life Lesson

Hog's Head Cheese

1 pig's head, with ears and tongue
2 tablespoons salt
1 large onion
4 whole cloves
1 bunch mixed herbs
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon each sage, cloves, allspice
4 tablespoons vinegar
4 tablespoons lemon juice

Ask your butcher to scrape and clean the pig's head thoroughly, splitting it and removing the eyes and the brain. With a sharp knife, scrape the ears, peel the tongue, and rinse thoroughly in cold water. Place in a large enamel kettle, cover with cold water, add salt, cloves stuck in onion, and the bunch of herbs (tied in a muslin bag). Bring the water slowly to a boil, cover and simmer 2 or 3 hours, or until the meat is ready to fall from the bones. Let it cool in the liquid. Then removed the meat to a colander to drain. Strip it from the bones, cut the ears in slices and the tongue in small dice. Season the meat with the rest of the salt, paprika, sage, cloves and allspice. Add the vinegar and lemon juice. Mix thoroughly. Pack tightly into a large bowl, interspersing layers of meat with slices of ears and bits of tongue. Cover the bowl with waxed paper, then cover with a plate and put a heavy weight on top. Keep in the refrigerator 2 or 3 days, when the head cheese will be ready to serve. to serve, cut in thin slices and serve with Vinaigrett sauce, chili sauce or prepared mustard. Yield: 20 slices.

Still reading? My grandparents grew up in an age when recipes like Hog's Head Cheese allowed families to use, and not waste, a large portion of their food sources. My mother-in-law worked in the fields of her family's farm, collected eggs from the hen house and learned how to cut up a chicken for cooking. She remembers when they butchered hogs and made sausage. The sausage was wound around the inside of the barrel and the pig fat poured down the center, keeping the sausage cured. Families purchased only a few things they could not raise or grow on their farms: flour, sugar, salt and other spices, coffee, etc. Leftover biscuits and bread were made into puddings, cornbread into cornbread dressing, meat into soups and stews. Summer vegetables were canned and available for winter use.

I sometimes wonder if our modern quest for convenience and cheap food isn't moving us backwards instead of forward? Surely the chemicals and excessive calories that taint our food today aren't moving the human race into an age of greater health, prosperity and intellectual gains?

Our family lives in an agricultural region with a long growing season. What a shame that my grapes come from Chile and the strawberries from Florida or California (3,000 miles away). We are hoping to plant a small organic garden this spring so we can enjoy home-grown tomatoes, fresh squash and peas. No chemicals, no shipping... just some hard work. I think it will be worth it!

There will, however, be no pigs. So don't come round looking for any Hog's Head Cheese!


Blue Mountains Mary said...

Oh my word - hogs head cheese made my stomach turn a little.

Hoping to do the same thing this year - plant a small vege patch - or even garden in pots -

3 Peas in a Pod said...


Oh my! I have to admit I was a little scared while reading the Hog's Head Cheese recipe. I couldn't figure out where you were going with it. :-) My grandparents used to own a butcher shop and my Mom had to eat cow's brains and all sorts of other things I don't think I could while growing up. They sure knew how not to waste food.

I couldn't agree with you more regarding the chemicals and excessive calories tainting today's food. I think we're getting farther away from the mark of greater health. I'm an organic girl myself and there's nothing better than fresh fruits and veggies from your very own garden. The fruit and veggie stand knows me by name. I could save a bundle of cash if my dog wouldn't dig in our backyard so I could have a garden. The kids would love it.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Sorry my comment is so lengthy.

Much love from NJ,

Anonymous said...

I wonder why it's called 'cheese' ? Nothing dairy there! It sounds suspiciously like what we call, or called, 'brawn' here in Australia. Like 3 peas, my grandparents owned a butcher shop, and my mum grew up eating anything that came home, and knowing anatomicaly where it originated and from what beast.

We make and eat as much from scratch as we can and avoid as much processed and white stuff as possible. Having said that, brawn (or head cheese) is not on our menu...

Stomper Girl said...

I had to force myself to keep reading that recipe. I remember my grandmother being cranky at us if we didn't eat the crusts of our bread because she hated waste. I marvel at that generation's talent for getting every bit of goodness out of the supplies they had. We do live in a wasteful society, all you can do is try and minimalise and, like you, try to grow your own. Pig's head cheese though? Maybe if I hadn't eaten for a week, but even then only if I knew NOTHING about what it was made from!

Anonymous said...

The fact that I read to the end of the recipe is evidence that I must really like you!

My Pete, however, read the title and said - is that like cheese and bacon together? He thought that sounded good.

I wonder whether our grandchildren will write a blog post about something that we eat and consider it just a little revolting.

M said...

Couldn't agree with you more. I find that we've grown up with such a "convenience frame of mind" that it's hard to really get my head around the REAL concept of waste. Using the hog's head is really not wasting things. Mind you, I couldn't even go near it. My head is still spinning from a couple of decades ago when I saw my grandmother peeling an ox tongue...

Great post!

Aunty Evil said...

Geeze you bloody well have me losing my dinner over this post, why don't you put some sort of bloody warning up before you start talking about removing eyes and brains and scraping ears?

It's people like you who have created the troublemakers in this vegetarians!

I hope you are ashamed of yourself!

FEEDJIT Live Traffic Map