We've made a few batches at work recently and there is a highly visceral reaction every time we get the heads out. After they've cooked for a few hours they tend to look like a prop from a Sam Raimi movie, or maybe early Peter Jackson. Sometimes the snout falls off.
The last batch we made was by far the most beautiful to date. There was a bit more love and care taken in reducing and clarifying the pot liquor, as our previous batches had a darker, greenish aspic, but this batch has a nice, clear aspic. The process of refinement requires more discipline than simply boiling the shit out of the pot liquor until it is reduced. You must skim and skim and skim the scum.
Head cheese is one of those food items that doesn't call to you if you are the normal restaurant goer. I think you have to know, and be just adventurous enough to go for it and taste its deliciousness. To me, it resembles dark meat turkey and giblet gravy, only with a beautiful meat jelly holding it all together. Like dark matter, or the Force.
Last weekend the Butcher—who also recently made a significant career move—attended a European-style seam butchery class. He was enamored with the new techniques he learned as well as with the kind Austrian folks that put it on. Naturally, part of the class on breaking down whole hogs centered around making delicious things out of the oft discarded parts of our friend Babe. I was so lucky as to get to taste these Austrian-style headcheeses, both a red, and the straight-up, as well as a meat spread (this resembled whipped pate du campagne or a highly aromatic potted meat). We had a beer and ate our little charcuterie plate and caught up on the state of our respective career shifts and life was good.
There were noticeable differences in the schools of head cheese here. The one we've been making is of British lineage, and you could see a difference in its Austrian cousin. I won't be so presumptuous as to say that one was better than the other, but they were different. For starters, the Austrians used a fresh pot liquor to make the aspic that the head meat is set in. The logic here is that when you use the original pot liquor you have all the "stuff" from the head in there: cranial fluid, mucus, potential hair, etc. Now, sure, this sounds gross to most people, but lets not forget the refinement process of skimming mentioned above and the temperatures at which this is prepared. Most of this "stuff" is going to be be removed and through straining you should get any unwanted hairs out of there. Using fresh aspic seems like a waste, since the original pot liquor is so heavily saturated with collagen and flavor from the head.
Secondly, they set fresh herbs in the aspic, which is something to look into for the finished product. Since it is eaten cold (it is a luncheon loaf after all), flavors are subdued and therefore a little extra greenery may be beneficial. Time will tell. Also, there were pieces of meat that were not of head origin in there, which is great when you have a whole hog to deal with, but we've had no need to use extra meat since these Richardson Family Farm hog heads are enormous and have the cheeks of John Goodman.
The red head cheese was something of dreams. Face meat and blood sausage! Yes, please. I love blood sausage, and this combination made for a rich snack full of ferrous goodness. I left the rest at work, otherwise I would have eaten it with a fried egg. Very good. I don't know about making it at work, as those who freak out watching us fillet a fish would not do so well watching me slowly cook a pot of pigs blood until it thickens into deliciousness. I'll have to save it for the prom.