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.
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’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.