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April 06, 2013

Head Cheese

By Worker Bee
93 Comments

Head CheeseHead cheese is not cheese at all, and these days it’s not always made from meat simmered off the head of a pig. A more accurate and appetizing way to think of head cheese is simply that it’s a cold cut made from tender, fatty pork.

Head cheese isn’t hard to make at home, especially if you have a pressure cooker and use pig’s feet instead of a pig’s head. A pressure cooker completes the simmering process in 1 hour, rather than 3 or 4. And pig’s feet are easier to find than a whole pig’s head (and there’s a little less of a gross-out factor if you’re squeamish). Hispanic supermarkets almost always sell pig’s feet, or you can special order them from a butcher or local farm.

Pig’s feet are inexpensive and the perfect addition not only to head cheese, but to any stock. The skin, joints and bones release tons of healthy collagen, giving the simmering liquid texture and helping it firm up when chilled.

When cooking head cheese at home, you can control the texture and flavor, making it meatier or more gelatinous, seasoned heavily with spices or hardly at all. The head cheese in this recipe photo is light on meat, resulting in a smoother melt-in-your-mouth texture. Most people, however, prefer a meatier mix, and that’s what you’ll get if you add all of the meat from the recipe below.

This recipe for head cheese takes some time but very little effort. Mostly, it’s about simmering and refrigerating. For some, head cheese is a nostalgic treat. For others, it’s an adventurous and surprisingly tasty way to embrace gelatinous food.

Serves: 8

Time in the Kitchen: 1 hour of simmering, plus 8 hours of refrigeration

Ingredients:

Ingredients

  • 4 to 6 pig’s feet
  • 2 pounds of a bone-in, inexpensive cut of pork (ribs, roast, un-smoked ham hocks) (900 g)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (60 ml)
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions:

Wash the pig’s feet, making sure to remove any hair that remains by scraping it off with a knife.

Pig's Feet

Put the feet and the other cut of pork in a pressure cooker with the vinegar, a generous pinch of salt and pepper and just enough cold water to cover everything. You can also add bay leaves, peppercorns, allspice and other spices to the pot if you like.

Pot o' Feet

Cook in the pressure cooker for 1 hour. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, then simmer in a pot until the meat is fork-tender, about 3 to 4 hours.

Strain the solids (meat, fat, bones) from the liquid (save the liquid!)

Cooked Pig

Put the solids on a plate or cutting board to cool and then separate all the meat and fatty bits from the bones and chop it up fine. If the really fatty pieces aren’t appetizing you can throw some out, but don’t go overboard or you’ll lose all the good stuff.

Generously season the meat with salt and pepper to taste.

Add as much of the cut up meat as desired back into the broth and pour it into a 9 x 13 cake pan.

In Pan

The mixture can also be poured into terrine or loaf pans filled 1/2 to 3/4 full.

Loosely cover the mixture of meat and broth and let the head cheese firm up in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

After the head cheese has set, use a spoon to scrap off and discard any white fat that has come to the surface. At this point the head cheese is done, but if the texture is too soft for your liking, then put it back into a pot and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Return the mixture to the refrigerator to cool and set again.

When it is cooled and set, cut the head cheese into slices or squares and serve.

Head Cheese

Recipe Notes

A pressure cooker extracts more gelatin in a shorter amount of time than simmering in a pot does. If you’re not using a pressure cooker for this recipe it’s very likely you’ll have to simmer the mixture again after the first refrigeration.

Whether or not a pressure cooker is used, the head cheese can always be firmed up by adding powdered gelatin to the broth and meat mixture before refrigerating it. The head cheese in the photo has had powdered gelatin added. However, if you use enough pigs feet (make sure to use at least 4 feet) then adding powdered gelatin shouldn’t be necessary.

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93 Comments on "Head Cheese"

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Deanna
Deanna
3 years 5 months ago

Wow, that is completely different from the head cheese you get from U.S. Wellness Meats! So, how do you eat it? Just pop it in your mouth as is?

pete Pedersen
pete Pedersen
2 years 9 months ago

Years ago my parents used to make this. But they pressed it into a loaf and then sliced it for lunch meat. ( Like bologna for sandwiches ) Can’t find it in the supermarkets any more..

Craig
Craig
3 years 5 months ago

I dont know how I feel about this!!!! I know its good for you but looks terrible. I am one that tries everything at least once. Can’t say the same for my wife!

Sarah
3 years 5 months ago

Can you tell me what it tastes like? I have never eaten it but would be willing to try making it. I live in Hong Kong and pigs’ feet are available here.

Ara
Ara
3 years 5 months ago

This is awesome! My Mom purchases the whole pig head from Mexican butchers and uses it when making tamales. It’s an essential ingredient to the flavor and texture of a great tamale. When I describe this to my Anglo friends and co-workers they gross out, so now I can use the words “head cheese” and it will sound sophisticated. ;-). Thanks Mark!

Kinsey
3 years 5 months ago

The best tamales I had in Mexico were made from the head meat. And it was a delicacy reserved for the man of the house, so I had to weasel a bit to get them to let me try one lol.

Shalimar
Shalimar
3 years 5 months ago

A timely article in the NYTimes magazine! ‘The Proper Way to Eat a Pig’

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/magazine/the-proper-way-to-eat-a-pig.html?hp

redsnapperuk
redsnapperuk
3 years 5 months ago

Don’t think pig’s heads are available to buy in the UK due to foot and mouth and other such concerns. This sounds quite interesting. Have been wanting to cook up some ‘trotters’ and see what they were like. I can easily get those from my local butcher.

Pete
Pete
3 years 5 months ago

Pigs heads are still available in UK; just ask a halfway-decent butcher, and they’ll order one in for you. We occasionally make brawn, and a roasted head is great at Hallow e’en.

redsnapperuk
redsnapperuk
3 years 5 months ago

Thanks Pete! We do use a wonderful local butcher for our meat, eggs and bacon so will ask the question!

Roget
Roget
3 years 5 months ago

This was my Romanian grandfather’s favorite thing. I also remember him shaving cold salt pork into his mouth with a pocket knife. It killed him at age 92.

Nocona
Nocona
3 years 5 months ago

The pocket knife or the salt pork?

Roget
Roget
3 years 5 months ago

Haha. Never saw anyone eat more fat, butter, lard, whole milk and the like. He was very primal and had no idea. The family joke was that it finally caught up to him at 92.

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
3 years 5 months ago

Real food is real food.

Stef
3 years 5 months ago

Comment of the week for sure.

trackback
3 years 5 months ago

[…] Daily Apple / Posted on: April 06, 2013 Mark’s Daily Apple – Head cheese is not cheese at all, and these days it’s not always made from meat simmered […]

Txomin
Txomin
3 years 5 months ago

It’s basically solidified broth. Don’t be scared, people. I use trotters all the time for lack of any other proper bone at my market. Very tasty stuff.

Romy
3 years 5 months ago

That’s exactly how my mom used to make it!! I loved it as a kid and still do.
She used peppercorns, allspice and bay leaves. We ate it with a small splash of vinegar.
Off to get some pig feet :-), Safeway (US) carries them, I think.

Karen
Karen
3 years 5 months ago

Yes, Granny’s head cheese was full of sweet, warm spices. It tasted a lot like her spiced peaches, except porky instead of peachy. 🙂

Steve
Steve
3 years 5 months ago

I make mine with the gonads of hogs

Paleo-curious
3 years 5 months ago

An ex-vegetarian (strict for 14 years, fish only for a few years after), I’m proud of myself for extending my food comfort zone as far as red meat, liver & bone broth. And I know I need the collagen for my damaged joints. But I just may not have enough lifetime left to make it all the way to head cheese!

Bryan
Bryan
3 years 5 months ago

If you think of this as thick aspic with shredded meat you might find it more appetizing. Technically speaking this isn’t head cheese, it’s made in the same manner and results in something vaguely resembling head cheese, but it’s not head cheese. As my father in-law says “If there aint a head in the pot it aint head cheese”.

Paleo-curious
3 years 5 months ago

So much of appetite is psychological (at least for me)– I’m sure your suggestion would help, especially if someone else did the actual cooking! Heck, if you’d told me a couple of years ago that I’d be eating pork sausage & liver & actually enjoying it, I’d never have believed you. So I guess there’s always hope!

Kinsey
3 years 5 months ago

It helps to think of it as fully respecting the animal. Just chopping a few acceptable cuts off and throwing the rest away is wasteful. Using all the ‘funny’ bits respects the animal that we have dispatched in order to fuel our bodies and brains.

Paleo-curious
3 years 5 months ago

Thank you, Kinsey, you’re right. I definitely do think about this aspect. My spirit is willing– I just hope my flesh gets a little stronger!

Amy
Amy
3 years 4 months ago

LOL! I too am an ex-vegan/vegetarian and am exploring Paleo. I eat seafood, organic beef and eggs and some organic dairy. I don’t believe I could ever eat pork or poultry. This head cheese is intriguing and disturbing all at the same time…. No head cheese for me either…

Galina L.
Galina L.
3 years 4 months ago
What is disturbing or intriguing about eating collagen? The Weston Prise Foundation highly recommends it – http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/why-broth-is-beautiful?qh=YToxOntpOjA7czo4OiJjb2xsYWdlbiI7fQ%3D%3D. The easiest thing to do is adding boxed gelatine into a broth and pour it over sliced meat (or fish, or prawns) , chopped herbs, a little bit of shredded garlic. The use of prawns and fish could be especially good idea when you cook flesh gently, but heads and fish bones for a long time, add gelatine, ginger, thine slices of lemon into the cooled broth and pour it over fish or /and prawn, add there cooked asparagus and fancy cut cooked… Read more »
Amy
Amy
3 years 4 months ago

Thanks Galina…. Great tips, I’ll give them a try.. It’s not gelatine I have trouble with, it’s making it from a head. I’m not saying it’s wrong and I’m sure it’s very good for you but I’m just a bit squeamish about head 🙂
In saying that, I love braised beef cheeks and I do make a beef bone broth that is full of gelatine. Oyster blade steak is also rich in collagen which I use regularly.

Galina L.
Galina L.
3 years 4 months ago

Actually, I never used a head myself, mostly pig feet combined with a beef on a bone for added flavor. It takes way too long to cook it in a pot till feet fell apart(at least 8 hours), I use a pressure cooker. It is good to have a boxed gelatine handy in case if the meat jello turns too liquid.

mary b
mary b
3 years 5 months ago

We raise pigs, so I think I will have to give this a try. Usually I just cook the pigs feet and serve them right back to the next round of pigs.

SophieE
SophieE
3 years 5 months ago

That sounds really cruel and awful!

jessica
jessica
3 years 5 months ago

you would be surprised at how “cruel” nature is.

I heard a ton of horror stories about culling my pigs, about how they would be aware, scared and cry out for their departed mates during the process. Honestly they were more interested in consuming the delicious and nutritious blood and bits that were being drained to even realize their friend was missing. As a jesture the chickens get the guts and the remaining piggies get an extra haul of greens to sop up all the blood. From death comes life my friend, two sides of the same coin.

Amy
Amy
3 years 4 months ago

+1

It seems like we are capable of projecting our level of awareness and emotions on the animals, without much respect for their actual level of understanding. I’m not justifying animal cruelty, neglect, or abuse. Just musing on the “pet” effect of assuming every animal has the same level of awareness or emotional commitment that we have to them.

Galina L.
Galina L.
3 years 5 months ago
It is a popular Eastern European dish eaten with mustard or horseradish souse. Mark, you made a mistake. Pigs feet are cooked until they fell apart(6-8 or more hours), or not enough of gelatine would be released into the broth. If the broth fails to solidify, haet it up again and add some store- bought gelatine. At the end of cooking add couple of bay leaves, when you put the broth into the container for the solidifying, add crashed garlic and chopped parsley. You can make it with adding tongue as a meat sours, it tastes better than regular meat… Read more »
mister worms
mister worms
3 years 5 months ago

I agree that you can really milk a lot more gelatin and such from the longer cooking time. I’m surprised 1 hr would do the job. Usually I put mine in the slow cooker for 10-14hrs. Pig’s feet make the most amazing broth, imo.

Deboning and chilling the mixture is what I know as nószki, a Polish dish my grandma made. She added carrots to hers and we ate it with a spicy mustard or vinegar.

trackback
3 years 5 months ago

[…] Head cheese is not cheese at all, and these days it’s not always made from meat simmered off the head of a pig. A more accurate and appetizing way to think of head cheese is simply that it’s a cold cut made from tender, fatty pork. Head cheese isn’t hard to make at home, especially […]… Mark’s Daily Apple […]

Wenchypoo
Wenchypoo
3 years 5 months ago

I’m looking at this and thinking that if I were to refrigerate it in ice cube trays, I’d have “collagen cubes” to put in soups, stews, etc., or to just eat alone as snacks.

If the ice cube trays don’t work for releasing the cubes easily and intact, maybe silicone candy molds?

JennF
JennF
3 years 5 months ago

What an awesome idea! I freeze some of my broth in ice cube trays to be used in this way, so why not head cheese?

Paleo-curious
3 years 5 months ago

I could actually see consuming it this way (in stews). My biggest obstacle then would be the prep work! But I got used to cooking liver (kinda sorta) & that *seriously* grossed me out at first!

Paleo in Asia
Paleo in Asia
3 years 5 months ago
I actually made something like this dish recently, but I ate it as a vegetable/meat broth. I was just experimenting with cow feet that were pretty cheap at a Costco here. I did use a pressure cooker. When I left it in a big plastic container overnight, it became veeeeeery solidly gelatinous. I haven’t thought much about eating it cold and solid. Heck, I didn’t even know what head cheese was exactly until this article. But I think I’ll start trying it cold and solid too. Why? Because summer is quickly arriving and eating hot dishes is less appealing during… Read more »
Carol
Carol
3 years 5 months ago

This is a really typical dish in my region in Ireland. Cork is known for Pigs trotters. They are called crubins (it is the Irish word for trotters). It’s a dish that if you talk about in too much detail people think “ughhhh” but actually if you just made it and put it in front of people they like it a lot. The other dish the city is known for is tripe and drisheen…it’s not quite as appetizing I have to say!

Brian
Brian
3 years 5 months ago

Those pig feet look incredibly human when cooked, don’t think I will try this one, I’ll stick to chicken and beef collagen.

Paleo-curious
3 years 5 months ago

Yeah, I’d have to say that the pix in this post are the polar opposite of food porn! Still, it’s made me think about my food prejudices & that’s always a good thing.

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
3 years 5 months ago

Cool artwork Paleo-curious. Did you go vegan in Northampton? I spent a lot of time in Northampton and met a lot of vegans.

Paleo-curious
3 years 5 months ago

Thanks, Bon! Actually I went veggie (never fully vegan for long) at 14, but definitely felt right at home during my years in Northampton. 🙂

SophieE
SophieE
3 years 5 months ago

I read that as “children and beef collagen.”

I guess with overpopulation and since you think they look like little human feet anyway there’s no point going to the butcher!

Marta
Marta
3 years 5 months ago

I am from Eastern Europe. We had head cheese often. My mom’s was taller with chunks of meat visible. I slice it and eat it on top of coconut bread, sliced raw onions and few drop of vinegar…. So good ….

C
C
3 years 5 months ago

Raw onions and vinegar! That’s what my dad used to do!

Graham
Graham
3 years 5 months ago

As a Swede, I grew up eating Sylta…very good, but I think “meat simmered off of a pig’s head” is a benign and charitable way of putting it…it’s *everything* from the head, up to and including, but definitely not limited to, face meat, eyes, brains, glands, etc, etc. You name it. It’s delicious, especially when it announces to a young boy that it’s christmas time!

Reindeer
Reindeer
3 years 5 months ago

My first very thought. Thinking back, my grandmother used to serve it at christmas and when I was a child and I clearly remember not getting a good answer when I asked what exactly kalvsylta *WAS*… Wasn’t until years later that I realized why they never told me xD I would NOT have eaten it.

I need to make my own sometime. Grandma used to serve the store-bought version but it contains lots of sugar and I honestly never liked it… need to give this another shot.

Janice
Janice
3 years 5 months ago
Wow, this is so cool ! Headcheese is a traditional food from my Ukrainian heritage, which I learned to make from my grandmother. She always used pig’s feet, pork hocks and a bit of beef shank, and made it for every special family dinner. We loved it ! I continue to make it, especially at Christmas. It used to be difficult where I live, to be able to find pig’s feet, but perhaps I did not know yet where to look for them ? I live in Canada and I am lucky now to be able to purchase all my… Read more »
lilaalejandra
lilaalejandra
3 years 5 months ago

How do you eat this? As a snack or as a main dish? I love pig feet but I have never heard of head cheese. It sounds delicious. I want to try it!

Janice
Janice
3 years 5 months ago

You can eat it as a side dish along with your main course, or have it for lunch or dinner with a salad etc. I make it in a shallow pan and cut it into squares about the size of a brownie.

Janice
Janice
3 years 5 months ago

Sometimes I eat it for breakfast…..yummy.

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
3 years 5 months ago

Yes! As a charcuterie artisan I love this post! I use as whole pig head. There is nothing more primal than killing and splitting a pig. (I save the brains, tongue, and cheek meat)

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
3 years 5 months ago

Deer works too.

rose (Aust)
rose (Aust)
3 years 5 months ago
I happened to have finished making 2 batches of bone broth yesterday. There were 3 plain (unsmoked) trotters used, along with bone remnants of meals and half a beef stifle (knee) joint and generous splashes of ACV. Both batches firmed up brilliantly (the second re-used the same bones). Thinking to eat cubes of ‘trotter cheese’ with a plate of greens. Will be using the fat in the frypan. The 12 yo dog will get a share too. She has been having a teaspoon of commercial gelatine daily for some time. Pig’s head is one of my favourite meaty/ organy bones… Read more »
Paleo in Asia
Paleo in Asia
3 years 5 months ago

From reading these posts, it seems that many people have a traditional attachment to this kind of dish with some doing it regularly now and some remembering it from their childhood back in the old country.

It’s a great service that you’re doing, Mark, reminding us of this old-style dish and also of encouraging people who are unfamiliar with it to stretch their thinking a little about what is good food.

Cheers.

Bob
Bob
3 years 5 months ago

Being from the south I grew up on head cheese as you have described.
Can’t be beat!

Fauna V
Fauna V
3 years 5 months ago

You can make a good head cheese from any large mammal. I use goats head and lambs head.

Corina
Corina
3 years 5 months ago
God! I’ve been craving for this for months. This is a traditional winter dish in my country. It is done with plenty of meat in it. Some add also some carrots, more for the esthetic, not that much for the taste. The tradition is to raise the pig through out the year and cut it before Cristmass. Every little piece is used. The fat is turned into a type of bacon which is divine crisped over a flame and eaten with onion. The skin in crissped and cut into small pieces that go brilliantly with a small quantity of traditional… Read more »
Mark.
Mark.
3 years 5 months ago

The pig feet need to be disintegrating apart from the bones themselves to get the gelatin; I use pressure-cooked pig-foot broth to enrich stews such as menudo and the refrigerated result, diluted by other ingredients, is firmer by far than Jell-O molds. Anyway I may try this now.

kell
3 years 5 months ago

Very interesting indeed. I always wondered what head cheese was and it actually does not sound as bad as I imagined!

Madeleine
3 years 5 months ago

Coincidence time! I had never heard of head cheese before (except for an unsavoury description of a male anatomical erm…residue). And then twice in one day!
I was running along the Maribyrnong River enjoying the Indian summer, listening to my favourite film podcast, Filmspotting. The podcast also mentioned ‘head cheese’ in a segment where they replay scenes from famous movies.
Apparently ‘Head Cheese’ was the original title of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre!

Sam
Sam
3 years 5 months ago

No, no and no again. I’ve always found the pig hard to eat and those pictures of its feet are horrible. However, I find eating the skin, some fat and meat from the pig extremely satiating, but draw the line here. I would be vegetarian; but I know better.

Danni
3 years 5 months ago

My gosh, I have never heard of this before. I must admit that my initial reaction is – yuk! But until I try it I can’t rule it out. Thanks for the instructions on how to cook it. I will give it a go.

Salima
3 years 5 months ago

Very interesting indeed. I had no idea about what head cheese is. But now I could proudly mention that it is one of my favorite foods. It sounds delicious. I want to try it!

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[…] Head Cheese […]

Juli
Juli
3 years 5 months ago

Oh, this brings back memories of the door bell ringing early Saturday morning as a child to find the burly pig farmer standing on the porch with the pig’s head. In Bohemian, it’s called something like “sulz.” My dad still makes it for himself. For as much as I love vinegar, I’ve never gotten around to this. My mind is now open to try it.

James
James
3 years 5 months ago

In Denmark where I live, I have it at every Xmas. It is called “sylte” in Danish and we do it at home according to the old and simple recipe. It is REALLY good and we feed on sylte about everyday for around 2-3 weeks!

In French, it is called literally “fromage de tête” (cheese head) and can still be found in local “charcuteries”.

hc
3 years 5 months ago
Toe cheese! If head cheese is made with head then what else would you call it if you made it with feet? Head cheese is pretty popular where I’m from in south Louisiana but not so common where I live in Tennessee. It was always well seasoned, had a bit of cayenne for a little kick and was served on crackers as a snack. My dilemma right now is that when I got a whole pastured pig a couple of months ago, the processor didn’t clean the trotters or the ears and they are really, really furry. Anybody have any… Read more »
Brian
Brian
3 years 5 months ago

Oh boy! Heritage foods USA. Split pig head from free range heritage breeds. Check it out! I personally don’t want to use CAFO pork.

Shawn
3 years 5 months ago

This is the first time I have ever been to your site and I am very impressed! You are very thorough. You made me want to make some head cheese! Keep it up! I wil be coming back for sure!

wildgrok
wildgrok
3 years 5 months ago

This sound yummy, for sure will try it
Would this work using a slow cooker?

John
John
3 years 5 months ago

I just don’t think I could get myself to eat that.

I know its supposed to be good for you, but pork fat from pigs feet. It would be very hard for me to gather the appetite to eat this.

And shouldn’t the name be foot cheese if there is no head in it?

I think I can buy pig jaws here, no teeth or anything but maybe that would be a compromise 🙂

Merry
Merry
3 years 5 months ago

Bought some parts, plan on making soon. But I think I’m going to call it “toe jam”. 🙂

Ulla Lauridsen
Ulla Lauridsen
3 years 5 months ago

That’s not how it’s supposed to look. Danish sylte, as someone else mentions, is bits of meat stuck together with the gelatinous soup, like this:

/

What you have in the picture is actually called ‘sky’. It’s a dish dating back to the middle ages, because meat cooked and prepared in this way in a pot, with a ‘lid’ of fat, was preserved for some time

prufock
prufock
3 years 5 months ago

My parents would make a batch of moose head cheese every year. A lot less fatty than pork, it had more of a grainy, spreadable texture than it looks like in the pictures you posted (more like a ball of moist feta or something). Also more of a brown colour. It’s delicious, and I’d definitely recommend you try some if you ever get the chance!

Nicholas Smith
3 years 5 months ago

If you have a Publix supermarket or other source of Boar’s Head meats, they sell a read-made head cheese. Their version is definitely much meatier.

http://shop.mywebgrocer.com/shop.aspx?&strid=04923862&shopurl=ProductDetail.aspx&pid=826868&clk_src=seopd&sc=SEOPD_CA_4795D138-B97E-465B-9428-AF62E970711D

Galina L.
Galina L.
3 years 5 months ago

For people who want their food looking as a food porno, there is a way to make that dish looking more esthetic – put it in the muffin form or a fancy jello form, add cooked carrots cut into star shapes, fresh herbs, chopped garlic and black pepper, even a thin slice of lemon, and it would be as beautiful as tasty and full of goodness.

Galina L.
Galina L.
3 years 5 months ago

It looks wrong on a picture – no meat at all, like just a broth mixed with a gelatine from a store, or worse, like pig legs were cooked, then everything went into a garbage except the remaining liquid.

ValerieH
ValerieH
3 years 5 months ago
This is an awesome post! I have probably eaten head cheese at a relative’s house as a kid. My parents didn’t serve it at home. I had never tried pigs feet until I bought 500 Paleo Recipes by Dana Carpender. She has a recipe for asian pigs feet with ginger and garlic. I have made it a few times now. I can’t get pastured pigs feet. I think my farmer’s slaughterhouse inspector is the problem. They have trouble getting their chicken feet back as well. The slaughter houses probably sell them on the side. I buy them from the local… Read more »
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