Hog’s Head Cheese (warning; gross farm pictures)

Warning! If you think your meat is made at the grocery store where no animals are ever harmed? Ya might wanna skip this post. 

This week I’ll be posting a recipe and pictures since it was butchering week here at Whippoorwill Creek farm. 

Head cheese or souse meat loaf as some call it, is one of the ways the old folks used to get all the good out of a hog. Most folks would just throw the head away, but not us. There are lots of tasty bits there if you know how to prepare them. We as Americans are conditioned to think of certain parts of an animal as offal, but here in the south on a poor dirt farm we waste nothing but the grunt. 

The hog we just sent to the butcher belonged to my uncle and weighed 510 pounds on the hoof when we weighed it in on the loading dock. It was raised all its life right here on the farm. Since I have been helping take care of them since we moved back he gave me the head to cook up. 

All our animals are raised as ethical as we can. They are never mistreated, they have good shelter from the elements and eat good food and always have fresh water. This hog was not named, but was talked to every day and got back scratches when fed. I often sit out under the oaks in the back yard near their pen and just watch them. The kids are daily giving them all the over ripe veggies and melons from our garden and the pigs get all our scraps from the kitchen except for meat and bones which the dogs get. They aren’t pets, but they are treated with respect and we always are thankful for the gift of meat they provide our family. 

My first step was to finish scalding and scraping the head clean then a tiny bit of trimming. The teeth, ears and muzzle need to be scrubbed with a wire brush. The few bristles that I was unable to scrape off were singed off and then the real work started. First I cut off the ears to boil later for pork ear sandwiches, washed the brain and started it soaking in milk for brains and eggs, saved the tounge for tounge sandwiches another day and removed the jowls to be salt cured and smoked. Since I don’t have the money for the salt cure and supplies right now, the jowls are in the freezer for now. 

Part way through cleaning the head. Here is the rear view of what I had to work with before starting to clean it. 

Since this was such a large hog, I had to use a saw to cut it into several chucks small enough to fit in our old stock pot. It’s a bit messy to do, especially on a hog this large, but much faster than using a cleaver or a hatchet. A final bit of cleaning and it was time to start cooking. 

I didn’t think to take pictures of this stage. 

I put all the chunks in the stock pot and added enough water to cover it all. I added a couple of bay leaves, a little Rosemary and thyme to flavor it then brought it all to a rolling boil. After boiling it for a while any of the impurities and funky stuff you missed will foam to the top and is easily skimmed off with a large spoon and discarded. 

The boiling time is dependent on which parts you plan to use. For a lean head cheese you only have to simmer it for a few hours. I like to use the skin too so I just boil hard for a while then turn it on a very low simmer and put the lid on for about 24 hours. By that time even the tough skin and gristle is falling apart. If you cook it any longer than that the bones all get soft and start to fall apart too. I’ve heard of folks that used bone and all, but we never did. 

After it cooks to suit me I remove everything I can with a large slotted spoon and sit it aside to cool. I also remove the bay leaves at this time. I then turn the stove up, bring the liquid to a good boil and boil until reduced to a thick stock about the texture of a very thin syrup. While it’s reducing I pick all the meat off the bones and shred it with my fingers, mixing in all the good stuff and discarding anything funky. 

After the meat is all in a big bowl I mix it with my hands adding sage, salt, black pepper, red pepper, a little garlic and a splash of vinegar (all to taste, I measure nothing, just taste it as I go along). I remember my grandmother telling me that no vinegar or very little was called head cheese and a good bit of vinegar and adding pimiento pepper and such made it souse meat. I think nowadays the two terms are used pretty much interchangeable though. 

Some folks add all kinds of stuff from olives to whole peppers. We always just kept it simple. We are simple folks here. 

After the meat is seasoned to taste and mixed well I add it back to the reduced liquid and stir until all the meat it coated completely then spoon it out into loaf pans and smooth it out. Then cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill. As it cools it gets firm and can be sliced sorta like meatloaf. We generally eat ours sliced and made into sandwiches with a little hot sauce, but some folks eat it with crackers or place strips over rice to melt and add flavor to the rice. 

I hope you will look past the yuck factor and give it a taste of the chance arises. 

I’ll readily admit it’s not my favorite food, but it ain’t bad and it keeps waste to a minimum and in my mind, shows respect for the critter that just gave his life so your family could eat another winter. 


A Day Off… Not!

What a day. I’m worn out and don’t feel like I got very much done today.

It was a slow day at work and the boss had to put the work van in the shop so we had the day off. But I still got up at my regular time and went and helped my friend Jason and his dad load three barrows to haul to the butcher. We then came home and tried to load a huge sow here at the farm that belongs to my uncle. I say tried because she wanted no part of that stock trailer and I’m not man enough to wrestle a 600 pound hog. They finally gave up and hauled the three we had loaded then dropped the trailer back off here at the house. About five this evening Emily and I finally got her on the trailer, so she will be on her way to be turned into the winter’s meat about six in the morning.

I went and picked up a small pot belly sow and got her established in a temporary pen then went to work cleaning the feed room in my barn. It was such a mess. Three years ago when we moved we had a couple of people help us gather up everything loose around the farm and put it in the dry and most of it seemed to wind up in the barn. Over the last few years some stuff was stolen, some was broken, almost all my water fonts and galvanized feeders have rusted out and some of the wooden items that were in contact with the ground had rotted. Buckets and cans of nails, screws and hardware had gotten spilled, my poultry leg bands and brass hog rings were spread everywhere, Feed sacks were piled up and labels had came off everything. It’s amazing how far a place can slide down hill when you aren’t there to stay on top of things.

But I dove in and made a start. I rewired the electric fence box and relocated it up high out of the way, I got most of the miscellaneous stuff gathered up and put into the metal cabinet to be sorted and cleaned later, burned a bunch of old rotten stuff and feed sacks, cleaned my huge old divided feed bin, knocked down a bunch of wasp nest and dirt dabber nests, and got a little dusting and cleaning done. I gave out and it got dark on me before I finished, but at least I can walk through the room now. I figure about two to three more days to get it cleaned up like it needs to be and to make what repairs are needed.

I really needed to get my chicken coops clean today, but everything has to go out through the main feed room so I had no choice but to start there. Emily and I have a plan. We have got to get this place going again. We spent all weekend talking about it and our first project is to get our chickens built back up. She’s got a few eggs in the incubator and two more shipments coming this week. We have a few hens grown here, but they aren’t laying yet. We have both been asking around and talking to our old customers and have a ton of folks wanting to buy eating eggs, hatching eggs, chicks and started poultry. We have a couple of people asking for dressed meat birds and we need some ourselves since groceries are sorta scarce right at the moment. So I need to get things ready so that if and when we get the funds we can get a few hundred chicks ordered before fall hits and it gets too cold.

I am still in shock over how much things have changed in just a few short years. Three years ago I was selling our eating eggs for two bucks a dozen and although we sold all we could produce, some still complained about the price. At that time eggs in the grocery store were around $1.50 a dozen. Now they are $4.00 a dozen in the store and farm eggs are selling for around $6.00 per dozen and no one in this area can find enough to meet demand. Several sources have projected eggs could double in price in the next six months to a year. We sold our regular hatchery quality chicks for around $2.00 each and point of lay pullets for $8.00 to $10.00 each. Now day old local chicks are $5.00 and good laying hens are running as high as $30 each. Surplus roosters we would sell for pretty much whatever we could get, sometimes as low as $1.50 each and glad to get it, this past weekend I watched literally hundreds of roosters sell and the cheapest ones, sold 15 to 20 head at a time on the count were bringing $7.00 each. Some roosters with nice colors and builds were bringing as high as $15.00 each. What a difference a couple of years can make!

Emily and I still have connections and have lots of friends who are into poultry, so can still get decent deals on day old stock and hatching eggs. We have the coops and the room. We have the experience and the knowledge. We have a good market that is expanding all the time. And most of all we are hard workers. The next step is to see if we can acquire the financing.

I don’t really want to have 700 to 800 birds like I did before, but I feel we need to have at least enough to provide for our customers and be able to turn a decent profit. I’d like to keep at least 50 meat cockerels growing out at all times too, butchering as needed for us and about every two months for paying customers. We are still going to raise a few breeds of show quality heritage birds, but of course, the biggest numbers will be our farm birds.

The plan is to try and get water lines and electric ran to the barn, to make the necessary repairs and buy whatever supplies we need to get going. To get a farm truck for hauling tons of feed and for making deliveries. In the spring we will be doing our CSA and farm shares. Swine, goats, sheep and a milk cow are in the future as I can afford to build the pens and buy fencing.

I’m happy. A farmer’s life is always hectic and the unplanned for is normal. It’s up early, work hard, deal with wading poop, frozen water lines, droughts in the garden and then coming home late, falling asleep then getting up and going out at two in the morning to help birth a calf. Farming is something you either are or aren’t. You either love it with all your being or you don’t do it long.

I’m a farmer.

And I love it.