In Defense of Head Cheese

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I don’t know if there are many foods more maligned than head cheese. Yes, the name sounds nasty, and it does look a bit strange, but really, it is nothing more than meat and gelatin. How nasty could that be? It certainly is less “nasty” than bologna or hot dogs, if you really stop to think about.

Traditionally, head cheese was made by removing any organs from a cleaned animal head, usually a calf or a pig, and then simmering it to extract collagen. This collagen was used to form a gelatin into which meat scraps were added. Most cultures have a variation of this type of terrine. Wikipedia has a nice list of regional varieties. The variations are usually based on the type of meat and spices used, but all are created with the same basic process.

I find head cheese to be delicious, with a fantastic mouth feel. Collagen is the same substance that makes slow cooked meat so tender and juicy, so why would it do anything different for head cheese? It is a great accompaniment for red wine. The tannins and the fat combine spectacularly.

Throw a couple of pieces between two pieces of hot toast, made from good bread, straight out of the toaster and you have a heavenly sandwich. The heat melts the gelatin and the bread soak up some of it and magic happens. Wash it down with a glass of Cotes du Rhone and you will be openly mocking the cowardly folks without the sense to try this classic.

  • http://memarielane.com Memarie Lane

    I had a completely different idea of what head cheese was, thanks for clarifying!

  • http://memarielane.com Memarie Lane

    I had a completely different idea of what head cheese was, thanks for clarifying!

  • http://www.miamihawktalk.com Chuck

    My one experience with head cheese was with a particularly nasty variety called souse that was pickled or cured in white vinegar or something. However they did it, my dad loved it–he found some at the North Market in Columbus, brought home a pound, and demanded that my brother and I try it (my mom new better). I had one bite and couldn’t do any more. Stuff was disgusting. (This was when I was in junior high, far past that whole “little kid who hates to try any new food” phase.)

    So dad went across the street to my grandma’s, hoping she would give it a try. She didn’t want any, so dad put some down in front of her dog. Sparky took one sniff of it, then walked away and never touched the stuff. I figure if even the dog won’t eat it, it can’t be good.

    Maybe I just need to find a better regional variety.

  • http://www.miamihawktalk.com Chuck

    My one experience with head cheese was with a particularly nasty variety called souse that was pickled or cured in white vinegar or something. However they did it, my dad loved it–he found some at the North Market in Columbus, brought home a pound, and demanded that my brother and I try it (my mom new better). I had one bite and couldn’t do any more. Stuff was disgusting. (This was when I was in junior high, far past that whole “little kid who hates to try any new food” phase.)

    So dad went across the street to my grandma’s, hoping she would give it a try. She didn’t want any, so dad put some down in front of her dog. Sparky took one sniff of it, then walked away and never touched the stuff. I figure if even the dog won’t eat it, it can’t be good.

    Maybe I just need to find a better regional variety.

  • http://www.autofoodography.com Jessica

    I’m a new reader and a big fan! People might find this interesting: http://www.autofoodography.com. There is a great debate starting about the merits of olive oil v. wine. Really interesting stuff! Thanks and keep up the great posts!

  • http://www.autofoodography.com Jessica

    I’m a new reader and a big fan! People might find this interesting: http://www.autofoodography.com. There is a great debate starting about the merits of olive oil v. wine. Really interesting stuff! Thanks and keep up the great posts!

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    Memarie, you’re welcome! Let me know if you try it. As Chuck’s story illustrates, you have to choose the variety carefully. The Wikipedia link in the post is a good place to see what kind you might like and what sort sounds gross to you.

    Chuck, quit whining and eat your head cheese! ;)

    Jessica, count me in for both wine and olive oil. I am a fan of both together. However, given the choice you pose in that article, I would certainly take the excellent wine and the Big Mac over the fine meal and a Slurpee. Wine enhances the taste of food while super sweet, sugary stuff like that would kill the taste for me. However, I am at a complete loss as what wine would go with the Big Mac. :)

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    Memarie, you’re welcome! Let me know if you try it. As Chuck’s story illustrates, you have to choose the variety carefully. The Wikipedia link in the post is a good place to see what kind you might like and what sort sounds gross to you.

    Chuck, quit whining and eat your head cheese! ;)

    Jessica, count me in for both wine and olive oil. I am a fan of both together. However, given the choice you pose in that article, I would certainly take the excellent wine and the Big Mac over the fine meal and a Slurpee. Wine enhances the taste of food while super sweet, sugary stuff like that would kill the taste for me. However, I am at a complete loss as what wine would go with the Big Mac. :)

  • sandy

    I love headcheese, I have tried several varieties and love them all. As I am now woking in a deli the question comes up often re: why cheese? I can't seem to find out where the cheese came from. as to the right wine to consume while enjoying the headcheese, I prefer a light white.

  • sandy

    I love headcheese, I have tried several varieties and love them all. As I am now woking in a deli the question comes up often re: why cheese? I can't seem to find out where the cheese came from. as to the right wine to consume while enjoying the headcheese, I prefer a light white.

  • sandy

    I love headcheese, I have tried several varieties and love them all. As I am now woking in a deli the question comes up often re: why cheese? I can't seem to find out where the cheese came from. as to the right wine to consume while enjoying the headcheese, I prefer a light white.

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