Head Cheese is an item that I have been terrified of forever. Just the name is a confusing mess. Only one word in its name is true, and it isn’t cheese. It is however made of head. In my case it was pigs head with some blood for added yum. Although it can me made with beef or sheep head, not that those are any better.
The whole concept of just boiling a head, typically without the brains or eyeballs, until the meat comes loose and all the gelatin is boiled out just sounds gross. Any food description that uses “congealed” as a part of the process can’t be good.
When I went to my local European specialty market looking for a new item I initially had my hands on some canned cod livers in oil. Then I saw the 3 varieties of head cheese in the deli case and decided it was my fate to get over my fear. I selected the spiced version with added blood. I love black pudding so I figured the flavors might be similar enough to get me over the hump. I selected a tasty Polish porter as a chaser, just in case.
Unwrapping this little treat was not encouraging, it just looks gelatinous and gross. The almost translucent sheen of it doesn’t scream “taste me” it just kind of screams.
I picked up the top slice to get a sense of its texture and density. It had an odd wobble to it when I waved it in the air. My guess is that the very different density of the meat parts and gelatin caused it to flex and wiggle about like a wounded caterpillar. At this stage I was pretty sure I was going to need the beer and some crackers.
I sliced it up into bite size pieces and went for it. The smell was actually pretty appetizing as I approached my mouth, very reminiscent of a good bologna, not that crap from a plastic blister pack but real bologna. I took the first bite without any crackers or sides so I could give it an honest assessment. The texture was very odd and gelatinous but the flavor, well the flavor was delicious. My earlier hints of bologna carried through to the taste. Again this is the good bologna, with just that hint of organ meat flavor in it (heart is a common additive in head cheese) and the spices that reminded me of spiced ham. I tried a 2nd slice to really focus on the mouth feel and while the inconsistent texture was still a bit odd the flavor was excellent. It was rich and fatty with a spiciness that had me digging right back in again and again until I was down to my last piece.
I was very sad that it was gone, until I realized that I had another 4 slices in the fridge ready for my lunch tomorrow. I’m thinking some rye bread, some good mustard and perhaps some onions will really bring home the liverwurst comparisons that I could not get past in my brain.
My plate will not be empty of head cheese for very long.
If you have the chance to give head cheese a try and you appreciate any manner of organ meats I’d say go for it. If not I will happily try yours for you.