Ok, so this wasn’t my most sought after posting. I mean really, who other than a serious foodie eats head cheese these days? However, like many things medieval, head cheese was popular and fairly tasty. Period head cheese is sweeter than the modern savory but that’s more of a taste thing.
To prepare jelly from pigs’ snouts, ears and feet.
Scappi mentions jelly made from pig in two sections. The second sections (#243 from Book II) goes into greater detail than the recipe from (#97 from Book II).
Get twenty pigs’ feet, six pounds of fresh pork rinds with the fat off, four snouts and four ears; was and clean everything. Boil it in a cooking pot with eight liters of white wine, eight of water and one and a third, more or less, at your discretion of vinegar. When you have skimmed it with a wooden spoon, put in a little salt, an ounce of crushed pepper, an ounce of cinnamon, an ounce of ginger and two nutmegs. Boil it all together. When the ears and snouts are a little less than done, take them out and finish cooking them in another pot with wine vinegar, pepper and enough salt, so they’ll be more tasty. When the decoction is cooked, do the test described in the previous recipes. Skim off all the fat with a wooden spoon and strain the decoction. When that is done, put in two and a half pounds of sugar, half a pound of firm honey and eight well beaten egg whites bringing it all to a boil as in the previous recipes and then putting it through a bag. When it has been strained, have the ears and snouts already split in two and arrange them carefully in dishes the bottoms of which are covered with three fingers of set jelly; then fill up the dishes with cold jelly so that the ears and snouts are held between the two jellies In the interval between jellies, with the ears and snouts you can put the feet, which have been cooked separately from the jelly in the same way as the snouts and ears are cooked. It has to be a deep dish or else use an earthenware baking dish or a shallow basin. When the jelly has set and is firm and you want to take it out of the pot, warm the pot in hot water so the jelly warms then quickly flip it over into a dish. Large or small depending on the depth of the jelly, because that way the jelly will rise up above the dish. If the inside, by the ears and snouts, you would like to put cleaned almonds, that is optional. For decoration around the dish put bay leaves. That jelly needs to be somewhat acidic and give it a tang with spices.
(Scappi, pp. 260/Book II. Rcp #242)
1 or 1/2 pig head
2 tsp ground pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger
1/2 gallon wine
8 cups water
1 1/2 C vinegar
1 tsp salt
4 tbs sugar
4 tbs honey
1 C broth from above
As you can tell I didn’t use 20 pigs feet. Just wasn’t going to happen. Not enough room in any of my pots or at the market. So I improvised. I used half a pigs head and scaled down from there. There is NO way I would ever have enough need for a full head (or 20 feet) of jellied pig meat unless serving a whole bunch of head cheese at a feast.
Take the cleaned pig’s head and put in a pot with your wine (I had to use mead because one bottle of wine was just not going to be enough).
Add your water and vinegar than add the spices. Let the head cook for a few hours till the meat is ready to start falling off the head. This takes about 2 to 2.5 hours. The head was still frozen when I put it in the pot and the meat was pealing from the bone at 2.5 hours. Skim the fat off the broth every hour or so.
Once the meat is ready to fall off the head, pull the head out and pull off the meat. Put the head bone back into the original broth and cook down. Here I used a slow cooker overnight set on low. Put the meat in a pot with the sugar and honey for the second part.
When the meat has cooled slice it into bit sized chunks, slicing the ears into strips.
I had to improvise at this point. The ears were indistinguishable from the other bits of meat and skin. I didn’t have the foresight to keep track of the ear before peeling off the meat.
I took the fat from the cheek and blended it smooooooooth like butter in the Cuisinart. For a more period feel, use a mortar and pestle…it’ll take about an hour.
The cheek meat went into the bowl with the other bits and pieces.
The sugar and honey were added.
I didn’t use the table sugar (I’m out) so used brown sugar. Don’t worry you can play around a little with the taste and what you prefer so don’t fear making small alterations! The meat was originally supposed to cook a little more; however I ran out of time and had to put the meat into the fridge overnight. Mix everything together.
It looks horrible but tastes great.
So this is where things get interesting. The trotter is used not only for the meat and fat but for the gelatin it produces when boiled. That clear gel seen when you’ve cooked chicken or pork on the under side where the juice sat…that’s what we want. The pig trotter adds enough to make a jello of the meat. (hence the original recipe calling for 20 trotters…here we just need one). If you have absolutely no chance of getting a trotter, you can use clear gelatin.
Place cool jelly on the bottom of the pan,
then the bits of meat with another layer of cooling jelly.
Let the jellies cool until solid.
If you’ll notice my head cheese has a much darker color than the more modern head cheese available in the deli’s these days. I used a red wine vinegar and brown sugar which gave the entire dish a deep caramel color. The taste is still excellent however the coloring in tune with the ingredients used.
Serve with bread or crackers.
I had pita bread on hand…and it was pretty damn good. A bit sweet but as the cook I was expecting that. Most people thing a meat gelatin to be savory so make sure that anyone who tastes realize they aren’t getting savory but a sweet meat dish. Will help in the strange category.