Head cheese is an ancient food from Africa and Europe that has been enjoyed by many cultures throughout history.
It’s often used as part of larger meals such as soups or stews.
What Is Head Cheese?
The word “head cheese” comes from the French term for “calf’s head.” In English, it refers to any type of boiled meat product with a hard outer coating.
Head cheeses are usually made using calf heads (sometimes called calves heads).
The most common types of head cheese include brawn, tongue, and cheeks.
Brawn was originally reserved for royalty in England.
Today, brawn is considered a delicacy among some people who enjoy its strong flavor.
Brawn gets its name because it contains all the edible parts of a cow except for the skin.
Tongue is another popular type of head cheese.
Tongues are removed from pigs and cows.
They tend to be more flavorful than other types of head cheese because they contain less fat compared to brawn.
Cheeks are also known as cheek pieces.
These are found attached to cattle heads.
Most head cheese recipes call for removing the bones after boiling the meat.
Once the bones have been removed, the remaining flesh is then seasoned and cooked until tender before being served.
How Is Head Cheese Made?
The process for making head cheese varies depending upon where it originates.
In countries like France, Germany, Hungary, and Poland, there are two main methods for creating this dish: The first method involves making a mold out of bread dough, stuffing the bread with meat, then cooking the whole thing until the bread has hardened into a solid block.
Once cooked, the bread is removed from the mold and sliced up to serve.
In other areas of Eastern Europe, they also have different ways of making head cheese.
For example, in Russia, head cheese is traditionally served during Easter celebrations, but it’s not limited to just one time of year.
Head cheese is still eaten today, though it’s more commonly referred to as “bryndzhan” (pronounced bryntshan).
Bryndzhan is typically prepared using cow’s milk and sometimes eggs, which gives it its soft texture.
When preparing a batch of bryndzhan, the dairy mixture is poured into a bowl before being packed tightly within a large pot-shaped container called a kalinka.
After the container is filled, the top is secured with rope or twine.
Then, the entire setup is submerged in hot water, causing the liquid to expand and cook the contents inside the container.
Once all the liquid has evaporated, the kalinka is taken out of the boiling water and placed on the stovetop so the container can cool down while the filling hardens.
The final product resembles a very firm casserole, and it’s usually served cold.
What Are The Ingredients In Head Cheese?
The main ingredient for making head cheese is beef tongue, which comes from cattle raised specifically for this purpose.
Beef tongues have very little fat content, so they don’t need any additional fats added to them.
Other parts of the cow may be used, but not necessarily all of it.
Some people prefer using pork instead of beef tongue, while others choose lamb.
The meat must be fresh, though, because if it isn’t, then it won’t work properly with the other ingredients.
Another major component of head cheese is cabbage, also known as sauerkraut.
Cabbage was originally introduced into European cuisine via Germany, where it was called sauerkraut.
Because of its sourness, it was considered good for healing wounds when mixed with honey and vinegar.
There are many different types of sauerkraut available today, including ones flavored with garlic, horseradish, caraway seeds, and even chili pepper flakes.
The type of cabbage used varies depending on what kind of dish you want to create, but there are several varieties you might encounter during your search for head cheese recipes online: red cabbage, green cabbage, and white cabbage.
Red cabbage tends to be more bitter than other cabbages, so it works best with sweeter dishes.
Other ingredients include onion, salt, herbs, spices, and sometimes eggs.
Each region around Europe uses slightly different versions of these basic ingredients.
For example, some regions add carrots, celery, parsley, or dill to their head cheeses, whereas others do not.
There are no set rules about what goes into head cheese, which makes each version unique.
You can find various recipes for head cheese online, but most of them contain the same essential components, just presented differently.
Here’s one example:
- 1 pound (454g) beef tongue
- 5 pounds (227g) cabbage, shredded
- ½ cup (113ml) water
- ¼ cup (60ml) salt
- 4 teaspoons (17g) sugar
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) oil
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon ground black peppercorns
- 6 cloves
- 4 whole juniper berries
- 2 cups (473ml) dry red wine
To make head cheese, start off by washing the tongue thoroughly before cutting it up.
Next, put the tongue through a meat grinder to grind it down into smaller pieces, and mix it with the rest of the ingredients except for the wine and the bay leaves.
Pour the mixture into a crock pot and cover it with a lid.
Stir the mixture every couple days until it becomes solid enough to remove from the liquid.
Once it’s done, pour out the liquid and discard it.
Then, rinse the mixture again, and place it back into the crockpot.
Add the bay leaves and the wine, and cook over low heat for 24 hours.
Afterward, take the head cheese out of the crockpot and let cool completely.
Store it in glass jars in the refrigerator.
You can keep head cheese for 2 weeks without refrigeration, although longer periods of storage require freezing it first.
What Does Head Cheese Taste Like?
The main ingredient in head cheese is usually cow brains, sometimes with other organs added.
These include heart, tongue, liver, kidneys, stomach, pancreas, spleen, testicles, gallbladder, eyes, ears, nose, spinal cord, etc.
Because these organs come from animals who have died naturally, they tend to be very fresh.
Head cheese may also contain onions, garlic, leeks, carrots, celery, parsley, salt, pepper, sugar, vinegar, mustard seed, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, bay leaves, and thyme (among other spices).
When making head cheese, you’ll want to start with some raw beef or chicken hearts for flavor.
You should then add the organ meats to a large pot filled with water, along with all of the above mentioned spices and herbs.
Bring it to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and let simmer until everything is cooked through.
If you don’t have any leftover animal organs lying around, you don’t necessarily need them.
If you do, however, there are plenty of recipes available online that will help you out.
Just search up “cow brain recipe” or “beef heart recipe” on Google.
How Long Does Head Cheese Last?
When making head cheese, it’ll keep in the fridge for up to two weeks if properly wrapped with plastic wrap.
Head cheese should be kept out of direct sunlight though because light exposure causes bacteria growth which makes it unsafe to eat after several days.
Can You Freeze Head Cheese?
Yes, it freezes very well! If you have leftover head cheese after making it, you should be able to store it in the freezer for up to 6 months without any issues.
Just keep it tightly wrapped so it doesn’t dry out too much.
You might want to thaw and rewarm it before eating if it’s frozen solid (or defrosted) for longer than 4 hours.
What Are Some Popular Head Cheese Recipes?
The most famous head cheese in the world is probably biltong, which was originally made with game meat, but now uses beef instead.
Biltong is also known as “jerked meat” because it is traditionally made using a jerking technique where the meat is pulled apart while still warm.
The traditional method of making biltong involves hanging meat up to dry in the sun, much like drying fruit does, before being ground into a powdery form.
Another type of head cheese popular in South America is called paca rellena (also spelled paquera) — this dish consists of a mixture of ground pork, spices, onion, and garlic wrapped inside a hard boiled egg.
Paca rellena may be served hot or cold, and its texture resembles a soft scrambled egg when eaten cold.
You might have heard about another kind of head cheese that comes out of Germany.
This one is called schmaltz herring, and it is usually served cold.
When cooked, the fish becomes very tender, almost falling off the bone.
Schmaltz herring is typically prepared by soaking the fish in water overnight then frying it until it turns golden brown.
After cooking the fish, it is mixed with onions, chopped parsley, salt, pepper, vinegar, and eggs.
Once everything is combined, the mixture is poured into a mold and allowed to cool completely before removing it from the mold.
In many countries around the world, including Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, there is a special kind of bread called panettone that is filled with head cheese.
Known as aligot, this sweet bread is shaped into a cone shape and filled with a combination of minced veal, ham, bacon, onion, and other ingredients.
Panettones are traditionally given away during Christmas time, but they are available year round.
Panettone is sometimes decorated with icing, although the decoration isn’t necessary.
There are plenty more types of head cheese that people enjoy around the world today, so let’s take a look at what makes them unique!
What Are Some Tips For Making Head Cheese?
Making head cheese should be relatively easy because it’s not too different from other types of cheeses in terms of ingredients.
You’ll need the following basic things:
- Milk (for curds)
- Butter (or oil)
- Curdling agent
- Rennet (optional)
- Cheesecloth (optional)
- Water (to wash cloth)
- Tongs (optional)
- Large pot with lid
- Heavy skillet
Step 1: Mixing Milk and Salt
Start out by mixing together one cup each of milk and salt into a bowl until all lumps have disappeared.
If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you could also put this mixture through a strainer using a wire mesh if you prefer.
Step 2: Adding Butter/Oil and Rennet
Now add two tablespoons of butter or olive oil to the milk mixture along with one teaspoon of rennet dissolved in water.
The rennet helps coagulate the protein so that it forms clumps called curds instead of liquid whey.
Stir thoroughly after adding the rennet.
Step 3: Separating Curds From Whey
Once the rennet has completely dissolved, start separating the curds from the whey by stirring very gently.
Keep stirring while waiting for the whey to separate and then pour off about half of the whey before continuing to stir the remaining whey and curd slurry.
Continue doing this until there is almost no more whey left.
Step 4: Making Cheese Cloth and Washing Water
To keep the curds separated from the whey, line up the cheesecloth with the inside edge facing down over the top of a large pot.
Place the pot on the stove and fill it halfway full with cold water.
Make sure the water is deep enough so that it comes just below the edges of the cheesecloth.
Now place the pot on high heat and bring the temperature up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 Celsius).
After heating the water, remove the pot from the stove and let it cool down slightly.
Then carefully lower the curds and whey into the cheesecloth without disturbing them much.
After they settle, lift the cheesecloth up and drain any excess whey from the curds.
Once the whey is gone, turn the water back on to its original temp and repeat the process again.
Step 5: Pressing Head Cheese
You now have to press the curds to squeeze out excess moisture.
To do this, take a heavy skillet and place it directly underneath the cheesecloth where the curds are resting.
Put a plate on top of the curds and weight down with something heavy like a cast iron pan or even another piece of cheesecloth.
Let the pressure build up slowly but steadily over time.
When the pressure reaches 10 pounds per square inch, stop pressing and allow the cheese to sit for 15 minutes.
How Do You Know When Head Cheese Is Done?
The most important thing to remember about this dish is that it needs time to cook properly.
The cooking process should be monitored so that the meat doesn’t get too dry.
If the meat gets too dry, then it won’t taste good.
Another key point to note is that the meat must be cooked until all moisture has evaporated out of it.
When the meat starts to look like leather, it means that the head cheese is ready.
You may have heard the term “crispy skin” in relation to this dish.
That refers to the texture of the outer layer of the head cheese where it meets the inner layers of meat.
If you notice any liquid seeping through the crispy skin, it probably means that the head cheese isn’t cooked enough.
So, if you see any liquid leaking out, stop what you’re doing and start over again with fresh ingredients.
What Are Some Common Head Cheese Mistakes?
There aren’t any hard and fast rules for making head cheese.
Some people think it should be made with raw meat while others prefer cooked meat.
There are also different methods of cooking the meat before forming into the shape of a head.
The following video shows you how head cheese could be prepared in various ways:
- Raw – This method involves cutting up the meat and mixing it all together. Once mixed, the mixture is then shaped like a skull and placed inside a large pot where it cooks covered over low heat until the liquid evaporates away. You may need to add more water if needed during this process.
- Cooked – In this version, there is no mixing required. Instead, the meat is cut into cubes and sautéed in hot oil. After removing the meat from the pan, you place it in a small bowl filled with boiling water. The meat is left to soak in the warm water for about 30 minutes. Then you remove the meat from the bowl and form it into the shape of a skull. The head cheese is now ready to serve.
- Mixed – If you want to mix things up, here is another option. For this one, you start off with cubed pork shoulder (or other protein source) which is seasoned with salt and pepper. Next, you add onion, garlic, carrots, celery, bay leaves, peppercorn, thyme, and parsley. Stir everything together until combined. Finally, pour in enough stock so that the mixture covers all of the ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and cook slowly for several hours. When the stock has reduced down significantly, take out the meat and shred it apart using two forks. Place the shredded meat back into the saucepan and let it simmer gently until it becomes tender. Serve immediately!
You can find variations of these recipes online, but they are not always easy to follow because they don’t include specific measurements.
If you have trouble finding information regarding a particular type of head cheese, check out our list of the best websites for learning something new.
- 1 large stockpot
- 1 low simmer
- 1 large patter
- 1 large mixing bowl
- 1 pan
- 1 pig head cleaned
- Sea salt
- Large stock pot
- Filtered water
- Place the head (frozen or fresh) in a large stockpot (like a seriously, seriously large pot). Fill the container with filtered water.
- Bring the pig head slowly to a low simmer. Cover and leave the pig head to simmer for 24 hours on low heat. By the time the head is finished, it will be in pieces.
- Remove the head from the stockpot with care and place it on a large platter (reserve the cooking liquid). Allow it to cool before separating the meat from the bones with your hands.
- Put the meat in a large mixing bowl. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste. Because headcheese is typically eaten at room temperature, err on the side of extra salty.
- Return the cooking liquid to a simmer. Continue to simmer the stock vigorously until the liquid has mostly reduced and is slightly thickened.
- Put the shredded meat in a pan (like a loaf pan). Pour the reduced liquid over the meat until it is completely submerged in the pan.
- Refrigerate the headcheese until firm. The liquid will set, resulting in a gelatinous loaf of… meat.
- Serve the headcheese cold with a crusty loaf of bread. (Or whatever you want!)
- Eat the loaf within a week or freeze it for later use.