I carefully lifted the lid off our big stainless steel stock pot, and a delicious-smelling cloud of white, billowing steam rose gently heavenward. The entire kitchen was immediately filled with the mouthwatering aroma of cooked pork. As a matter of fact, I’m actually getting kinda hungry right now, just thinking about it.
The view inside the pot, however, was markedly different…
Yup, the kitchen might smell like a porky paradise, but inside the stock pot, things were downright disgusting. Y’see, for the past 18 hours or so, I’d been boiling a whole pig head: skull, snout, brains, eyeballs, the whole nine yards.
Definitely not the most appealing thing in the world.
And now that it was all cooked and everything was falling off the bone (somewhat reminiscent of that one scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark), it was time to pick the meat off, add some salt and pepper, pack it all into a loaf pan, and pour the remaining liquid over the top of it.
Then throw the pan in the refrigerator for a couple hours, and presto! You’ve got yourself a jiggly, gelatinous block of pig… stuff.
A.K.A. Fromage de Tête
A.K.A. Head Cheese
Now, before you go getting all grossed out on me, just let me say that head cheese is delicious! I was introduced to it back when I lived in Louisiana — in Cajun country — and I’ve been craving it ever since I left. The problem is, around here, you can’t just walk down to the local grocery store and pick up a fresh pig head. I’m not sure why that is. It might be that pigs’ heads don’t wrap up well in cellophane, or it might be that the thought of seeing a dead pig smiling up at you from behind the glass display case seems distasteful.
But even if looking at a severed hog’s head is distasteful, believe you me, the 8 loaves of head cheese we got from butchering our pigs last month are some of the most tasteful products of the whole operation!
I mean, with head cheese, you’ve essentially taken a delicious hunk of tender,
fatty flavorful meat — some of the very best meat on the entire pig — and then, through hours and hours of simmering, you’ve condensed it down into a soft, savory, melt-in-your mouth explosion of porky goodness. Homemade pork-concentrate. It’s delightful when sliced cold and eaten with spicy mustard and sauerkraut on a crusty slice of bread. And it really turns things to 11 when you serve it hot, ladled over some steamed rice or homemade mashed potatoes.
If nothing else, the fact that our 3 year old regularly asks for head cheese sandwiches (and scarfs them down with glee), ought to serve as at least some proof as to how good head cheese really is.
It kinda makes me sad, though, that today’s society turns its nose up at such kingly fare. Instead of celebrating and enjoying the entire pig for what it is, people tend to get pretty squeamish when it comes to the heads, the tails, and the feet. People like to pretend that those things — and a whole host of other tasty bits — don’t exist. If it isn’t something pretty, like a ham, a pork chop, or a slice of bacon, it gets labeled as “GARBAGE”, with no use whatsoever, except maybe in a cheap package of hotdogs, where at least it can’t be identified…
Now, I’m not knocking hotdogs, mind you. I like ’em just as much as the next guy. I just feel bad that so many good products are seen as garbage nowadays. It especially hurts my heart to see something as delicious as head cheese go to waste.
And when it comes to our pigs, I want to utilize as much as I possibly can. Even the “garbage” bits. I figure it’s the least I can do to honor our animals.
But y’know what?
I actually like eating the garbage bits!
The other night, as we gathered round the dinner table for a colorful, homemade Mexican fiesta, I was struck by how much of our food is “garbage.” The refried beans were cooked with garbage (tallow, rendered from the fat scraps from our steer). The tortillas had garbage in ’em (lard, rendered from our pigs’ fat scraps). Heck, even the Mexican rice used a healthy portion of garbage (pheasant broth, made by boiling the feet and carcasses from all the pheasants we shot last hunting season).
And that’s only the beginning!
Since we’re on the topic of hunting, let’s take a minute to talk about gut piles. Sure, it might look like a big old heap of smelly garbage. But you haven’t lived until you’ve tried a hot Philly cheesesteak sandwich, made with deer heart, piled high on a steaming loaf of Lindsey’s homemade French bread — or a juicy venison bratwurst, stuffed in fresh deer casings.
Hardly a meal goes by that we don’t use some kind of “garbage.” Whether it’s saving our bacon grease to mix it into our biscuit dough, or cooking our rice in the leftover juice from a Sunday roast — or even a mouthwatering “B.A.M. sandwich” (Bacon, Avocado, Mayo) using the bacon I made out of the pigs’ cheeks. We sure do eat a lot of garbage around here!
Are we perfect?
We don’t use everything our animals provide. But we do try to recognize that meat is special. Not something to be wasted. We try to always remember that our food was once a living, breathing creature — more often than not, a creature that we raised and loved. And honestly, that’s the real reason why we eat so much garbage.
Head cheese sandwich, anyone?