What are the best tips for making head cheese?

Calf’s foot jelly.

Sometimes making cheese can be a messy and unpleasant process, but there are a few things novices and experts alike can do to simplify the process. Anyone who buys meat should buy it already cleaned to avoid the complicated process of removing the organs from the skull. Making cheese in your head often takes a long time, so patience is also key.

A brine adds more flavor to the head cheese.

Some may not find it unpleasant to clean a pig’s head to make cheese, but the process can be time-consuming, whether or not the person has butchery experience. Those who don’t have pigs but still want to make cheese for their heads may benefit from spending a little more money on a pre-washed head. These pieces are already stripped of skin, eyes, tongue and brain. The only meat normally left on a clean pig’s head is muscle tissue.

Those who wish to include hocks, tongue and other viscera in their head cheeses can buy them already cleaned and ground. The meat in the pig’s head, when boiled, will normally form a very tender gelled meat, similar to bulk sausage. Buying extra meats, already ground, usually saves the cook some work in the long run.

Chefs new and experienced in making cheese from scratch should not skip any steps in the process. Choosing not to brine the meat can result in a bland, tasteless head cheese. The brine usually contains water, salt, and sometimes some pickling spices. Soaking the head in this mixture for at least 12 hours infuses salt and brings out the natural flavors of the meat.

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Boiling the head for the right amount of time is usually very important. Proper timing generally ensures that about 95% of the meat is separated from the skull, eliminating the need to scrape or remove the meat from the bone. Most heads require up to four hours of boiling time, although a very large head may require an additional hour or more. The cook can create their own broth to boil the head or buy pre-made chicken or vegetable broth.

The head should fit into the boiling pot with at least 3 to 4 inches (about 6 to 8 cm) to spare. This normally allows the liquid in the pot to boil continuously without the mixture boiling over. If it boils, the cook must add more liquid to the pot because the head must be covered by the liquid throughout the boiling process.

The broth should thicken as the head boils and reach a consistency much like liquid soap or fine honey. If it doesn’t thicken after about two and a half hours of cooking, adding a handful of powdered gelatin can speed up the process. Once the head is boiling, the cook can usually remove the skull, which should be meatless, and place the mixture into sausage casings 4 to 6 inches (about 8 to 12 cm) in diameter. The head cheese must then be chilled for at least 12 hours after packaging.

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