Head Cheese on the Brain

Since I began this blog 3 months ago I’ve been joking, dancing around and downright avoiding the topic of Head Cheese. When I take my daily strolls out into the market I always see them in the case, I stop and consider them for a few minutes before breaking eye contact and moving on down the way.

 I’ve spoken with several guests, and of course the wise and knowledgeable staff I’m blessed to work with, but the explanations are sometimes either by the book or incredibly vivid descriptions of the process & parts involved.  I also looked around online to see what head cheese is all about and that was perhaps a really bad idea.  It’s probably just me but the words Coagulate & Congeal really make my stomach turn.

 Well after several weeks of letting all the information soak in I am much more comfortable with the idea.  I’ll say this; there are all kinds of variations throughout the world that enjoy this kind of cold cut. Because head cheese isn’t actually a cheese but different cuts and pieces that are set in a meat jelly.  Some kinds are more jelly than others, and some are made using the stomach as natural casing.

I figured today I would go for broke and try all 3 kinds of head cheese that we carry. Maybe I’m being gutsy or maybe I’m just trying to get it all over with at one time, perhaps it’s a bit of both. Feeling as open minded as I was going to get I went up front and asked Chef Josh to cut me a small sample of each kind. We spoke for a few minutes while he pulled them out of the case one by one and sliced them out for me. I learned that Blutwurst (Blood & Tongue) is actually a variation of head cheese, making sure I cover all my bases he sliced of a piece for me. Heaven forbid I miss out on the Blood & Tongue!

Looking at my odd little plate I couldn’t help notice the smell of vinegar that emanated from gelatinous slices before me. Taking a deep breath (well not to deep…vinegar) I started at the top left and worked my way around.

The first was a Sulze by Schaller & Weber, it’s appearance is pretty straight forward, you can see the chunks of ham clearly embedded in the clear aspic (jelly). The ham was good, nothing out of the ordinary. The jelly however had a light salty taste and a hint of onion. It melted in my mouth and that was an unpleasant surprise for me.

The second was also in the Sulze class of head cheese from our friends at Bavaria sausage. Their version uses a lot of jelly in which you can see big chunks of ham, carrots, celery & pickles immobilized inside. This was the hardest to eat because of the rubber like texture the jelly had (however since it didn’t melt in my mouth like the first one I’d consider it a plus). I also knew from the first bite that this is where the strong vinegar smell was coming from. That taste was at the forefront; however after a moment I was able to taste all the vegetables. It was almost like having a cup of vegetable soup in a sliced form, a very strange experience.

Third in line was a big slice of the Presskopf. This was the first head cheese I saw put out when we opened the market. It contains the tongue and cheek of the pig. This particular kind was made with the stomach as the outer casing.  Visually this one is a marvel, because the shape of the pig tongue is discernable in the slices. I had to stop for a few minutes before going on with my sampling. It helped looking at the ceiling and NOT thinking about what I was eating. It didn’t help that Linda walked in and made a gagging sound when she saw what I was eating. Way to kill the moment. The taste wasn’t nearly as bad as the first two, and the texture was a major improvement. It was a bit grainy but I would choose this one above the other two if asked for a recommendation.

Last to go was the Blood & Tongue. I had to cringe when I first thought about it but I’d already come this far, after a few bites I realized that the grainy texture must be the tongue since it was almost identical to the Presskopf. Instead of using jelly to bind the meat chunks it uses…blood.

 I recognized the taste as being vaguely familiar, and had to really think when I would have had anything remotely close to this. Then it came to me, last year for our wedding anniversary my husband and I went to an Irish restaurant and I tried Blood Pudding. This was prepared differently but the taste was very much the same. I enjoyed it then and I enjoyed it today. Granted I’m not about to buy a pound of it to take home but it certainly is something I would be able to heartily recommend. It has a very strong black pepper flavor that is not overwhelming but rather a nice balance with the pork.

Overall it was a good experience trying out the different kinds, although the taste is really sticking with me as I write this all out. I think I may start keeping a bottle of scope in my desk….


5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jeannie Stack said,

    Ahh the fond memory of my mother eating headcheese… Ugh… Just cant go back there. Also her favorite cheese was Limburger.. I love my German heritage but honestly this southern gal just cant do anything with blood being the binding agent. Blood sausage was a yearly event at home after my parents traveled to Indiana. The smell.. oh the smell.. don’t think I can ever forget it nor do I want to smell it again… You are a brave soul… I seem to remember Mother saying it all smells bad but once you eat it you cant smell it… Really …Not… Happeningl. I give you the award of the day for being a loyal employee and at least trying it..You go girl!

    • 2

      Thank you for sharing your memories! I absolutely LOVE hearing stories like these. While many things I hear about make me cringe I try to remember that this is an opportunity to experience foriegn cultures without really leaving home. I’ve been told before that the stranger things are always a delicassy somewhere. I know at some point I’ll get around to trying Limburger but at the moment we are currently out…darn my luck 🙂

  2. 3

    Pam said,

    Welcome to the world of adventurous eating!

  3. 5

    Hans said,

    Try it, you’ll like it! The Limburger must be from Bavaria and not too ripe. Eat it on a slice of German rye bread. Wash it down with with a mug of Spaten beer.

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