What do you say when your buddy says, “Hey, I’ve got a pig head, what should we make?” Well, guanciale was the first thing that came to mind, but the cheeks and jowls from this little pig won’t yield enough to make two chefs happy. Then there is tete presee, but I don’t really hanker for the generally chewy and gelatinous creation that comes with that preparation.
One thing I do really like is headcheese, I know there are very few of us out there that like it, but when made right (as my buddy did, with very little help from me) with only the natural gelatin to bind the loaf together, it can be heavenly. Think about it, pork cheeks, pork jowls, and pork fat bound together by super-rich pork stock, slathered with mustard on a crusty baguette with some homemade pickles . . . rustic perfection.
The method for making head cheese is very simple, and I mean everyman simple: gently simmer the whole head of a pig in water with white wine, carrots, onions, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns until everything falls off the bone, reduce the stock by two-thirds, cool to body temp, and season with salt and pepper. Pick the meat, and remove anything that you won’t want to eat (this is a very subjective part of the equation), put the meat and fat into a terrine mold (or loaf pan), and cover with the reduced stock. Press the mold over night and remove from the mold the next and . . . viola, headcheese! Not the tough and overly-gelatinous version but a supple and very pork-flavored loaf that is totally craveable, easy to prepare, and inexpensive. If you want to have a go at it, I am sure Clancy’s in Minneapolis can source the ingredients for you.