Legendary Dishes | Headcheese


Long distance truck drivers are creatures of habit. When they are required to rest they seek their creature comforts. Despite the attraction of fast food outlets in roadside buffets and cafes there are still some drivers who are more comfortable with the traditional high energy foods.

Headcheese or brawn, made with fat, jelly and meat from the pig’s head, is served according to the custom of the individual region to satisfy this demand. It is found in the buffets of many service stations on the national routes, but beware!

Charcuterie is no longer the skill it once was and pork butchers with the necessary experience are few and far between, even in France where the numerous preparations are often mediocre.

This is the original recipe. If you have access to a cheese press the result will be even better.

Soak the pig’s head in cold water for two hours, replace the water, add 50 grams of coarse sea salt and soak overnight.

This gives the meat a pinkish clour and adds flavour to the head.

Rub clean the head, especially the ears and around the eyes, and do a final soaking in cold water for two hours.

On a heavy wooden surface lay the head with the neck exposed. Chop the head almost in two, remove the brain and dispose. Place the two halves along with the tongue and two trotters in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Fill with water, bring to a fast boil and remove the scum that rises on the surface.

Add a variety of herbs, spices and vegetables – usually a combination of all or part bay leaves, carrots, celery, garlic, lemon peel, nutmeg, onions, orange peel, peppercorns, rosemary, sage and salt.

Cook over a low heat for four to five hours, until the skin falls off the bones. Strain and leave to cool.

Reduce the strained liquid by two-thirds.

Dice the meat, including the tongue, and combine with 60ml of stock, spoon into a cheesecloth or muslin bag, leave in a cold place overnight pressed down with a heavy weight, to push out the fat.

A more compact headcheese is achieved by moisting the cloth, laying the skin on the cloth, followed by the meat and bringing it together to form a bundle. Tie with string and place in the cooking liquid for a slow 30 minute simmer. Remove, press it, then unwrap the meat from the skin before cutting.

Fromage de Tête

In northern Europe headcheese accompanies pickles or potatoes. In central and western Europe it is set in aspic. In southern Europe, Italy in particular, the contents of the head are the basis for other pork cuts.

The French and Italians no longer make headcheese, they make a delicacy made from pork cheek and the jelly from the head bones, and some butchers enrich their product with bacon and pork belly. It is a delicacy that defies reason, and getting a recipe out of them is like trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

Their secret of is a combination of the method, quality of pig and the range of ingredients. But when they want a very special headcheese they adorn it with herbs, nuts and truffle.

Popular recipes include parsley, belly pork rind, thyme and white wine.

This is the modern adaptation of the traditional recipe.

  • 1 pig head, cleaned, soaked in brine, split with brain removed
  • 6 carrots, whole
  • 2 leeks
  • 2 onions, each spiked with 3 cloves
  • 150 ml white wine
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 30 g parsley
  • 10 g salt
  • 10 g black pepper
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Water

Place the head in a large pot, add herbs and vegetables, top up with water and bring to the boil. Remove any scum that floats to the surface. Simmer over low heat until skin starts to fall off the bone, about four hours.

Leave to cool.

Strain liquid, remove meat from bones and cut into pieces.

Reduce stock to a quarter, add wine and reduce by half.

Add stock to meat, season liberally and pour into bowls. Leave overnight in fridge.

Coppa di Testa

A delicacy in Emilia Romagna, Lombardy and Tuscany, the headcheese of Italy is seasoned with spices.

  • 1 pig head, cleaned, soaked in salt and spices
  • 100 g belly pork including rind (optional)
  • 100 g bacon (optional)
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 15 g cinnamon
  • 15 g black pepper
  • 10 g nutmeg
  • 10 g salt
  • 1 tsp lemon / orange, zest
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 bovine bladder

Soak head in several changes of water, first cold water for two hours, then cold water with 60 gram sea salt for four hours, then cold water with 60 gram mixture of ground chilli, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper for eight hours.

Remove the ears, trim excess skin, split in two and remove brain. Place in a large pot with the bay leaves, salt and sufficient water to cover.

Bring to the boil, remove scum, and simmer for four hours.

Strain liquid and while the head is still hot remove all the meat and discard pieces of bone, cartilage, fat and skin.

Mix the meat with the cinnamon, garlic, nutmeg, pepper, salt and zest. Push mixture into the bladder, hang and leave for three days in a cool place.

When cut, the meat should be marbled pink and red.

Serve with white bread and red wine.

For a pure headcheese omit the bacon and belly, and replace with cheek.