In Defense of Head Cheese

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.

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