Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
6 Apr

Head Cheese

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


  • 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


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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Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. 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?

    Deanna wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • 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..

      pete Pedersen wrote on December 12th, 2013
  2. 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!

    Craig wrote on April 6th, 2013
  3. 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.

    Sarah wrote on April 6th, 2013
  4. 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!

    Ara wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • 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.

      Kinsey wrote on April 9th, 2013
  5. A timely article in the NYTimes magazine! ‘The Proper Way to Eat a Pig’

    Shalimar wrote on April 6th, 2013
  6. 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.

    redsnapperuk wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • 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.

      Pete wrote on April 6th, 2013
      • Thanks Pete! We do use a wonderful local butcher for our meat, eggs and bacon so will ask the question!

        redsnapperuk wrote on April 7th, 2013
  7. 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.

    Roget wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • The pocket knife or the salt pork?

      Nocona wrote on April 6th, 2013
      • 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.

        Roget wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • Comment of the week for sure.

      Stef wrote on April 6th, 2013
  8. 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.

    Txomin wrote on April 6th, 2013
  9. 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.

    Romy wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • Yes, Granny’s head cheese was full of sweet, warm spices. It tasted a lot like her spiced peaches, except porky instead of peachy. :)

      Karen wrote on April 6th, 2013
  10. I make mine with the gonads of hogs

    Steve wrote on April 6th, 2013
  11. 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!

    Paleo-curious wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • 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”.

      Bryan wrote on April 6th, 2013
      • 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!

        Paleo-curious wrote on April 6th, 2013
        • 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.

          Kinsey wrote on April 9th, 2013
        • 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!

          Paleo-curious wrote on April 9th, 2013
    • 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…

      Amy wrote on May 1st, 2013
      • What is disturbing or intriguing about eating collagen? The Weston Prise Foundation highly recommends it – 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 carrots (you could use muffin forms). It is a famous festive dish in Europe. It is not a problem to make a meat jello out of beef. Low parts of beef legs, ox tails, jowl meat contain a lot of collagen which would be released after prolonged cooking.

        Galina L. wrote on May 1st, 2013
        • 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.

          Amy wrote on May 1st, 2013
        • 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.

          Galina L. wrote on May 1st, 2013
  12. 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.

    mary b wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • That sounds really cruel and awful!

      SophieE wrote on April 6th, 2013
      • 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.

        jessica wrote on April 8th, 2013
        • +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.

          Amy wrote on May 8th, 2013
  13. 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 because cooked tongue is very uniform and tender in a texture and also requires long cooking.

    Galina L. wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • 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.

      mister worms wrote on April 7th, 2013
  14. 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?

    Wenchypoo wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • 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?

      JennF wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • 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-curious wrote on April 6th, 2013
      • 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 hot weather. After all, aside from gustatory pleasure, we do eat these types of dishes for the healthy benefits. And we don’t want to get the benefits of bone broth only when the weather is cold. Just think of it as cold, solid bone broth. It’s really just Jello without all the unhealthy additives.

        Paleo in Asia wrote on April 6th, 2013
  15. 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!

    Carol wrote on April 6th, 2013
  16. Those pig feet look incredibly human when cooked, don’t think I will try this one, I’ll stick to chicken and beef collagen.

    Brian wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • 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-curious wrote on April 6th, 2013
      • 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 Bon Rurgundy wrote on April 7th, 2013
        • Thanks, Bon! Actually I went veggie (never fully vegan for long) at 14, but definitely felt right at home during my years in Northampton. :-)

          Paleo-curious wrote on April 9th, 2013
    • 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!

      SophieE wrote on April 6th, 2013
  17. 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 ….

    Marta wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • Raw onions and vinegar! That’s what my dad used to do!

      C wrote on April 7th, 2013
  18. 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!

    Graham wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • 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.

      Reindeer wrote on April 9th, 2013
  19. 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 meat directly from a small, natural, sustainable farm. The beef is grass-fed and the pork is pastured, heritage pork. I was excited to find healthy pig’s feet and pork hocks, but I was amazed to be able to get pig’s head for free from my farmer. He cut it up for me, and I am now able to make headcheese anytime ! I use equal parts pig’s feet, pork hocks and pig head, with a little piece of beef thrown in for extra meatiness. I do not have to use extra gelatin as long as I use enough feet and head to balance out the meatier cuts. I boil it all on top of the stove with only enough water to cover, a few peppercorns and garlic cloves. After I strain the broth and before I add the meat back to the dish, I season the broth with some fresh chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Delicious ! Thanks for this post. This perfectly brings together a traditional food for my family with the paleo way of eating. For anyone feeling squeamish to try it….just think of it as cooled soup that has jellied just like cooled roasted meat jellies on the plate. Very good for you and very refreshing….great for a hot weather picnic.

    Janice wrote on April 6th, 2013
  20. 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!

    lilaalejandra wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • 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 wrote on April 6th, 2013
      • Sometimes I eat it for breakfast…..yummy.

        Janice wrote on April 6th, 2013
  21. 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 wrote on April 6th, 2013
  22. Deer works too.

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on April 6th, 2013
  23. 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 for bones for dogs. Rare to be able to buy one with the cheek meat still on, the butchers value that for brawn type product. Half is more than enough so I either apportion it with an axe, or take it off the dog after 20 mins for round two the next day.

    rose (Aust) wrote on April 6th, 2013
  24. 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.


    Paleo in Asia wrote on April 6th, 2013
  25. Being from the south I grew up on head cheese as you have described.
    Can’t be beat!

    Bob wrote on April 6th, 2013
  26. You can make a good head cheese from any large mammal. I use goats head and lambs head.

    Fauna V wrote on April 6th, 2013
  27. 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 alcohol in cold winter days with 1m, or more, of snow. And all the leftovers go in a gigantic pot to be boiled into this delicious gelatine. Mmmmm sooo goood!

    Corina wrote on April 6th, 2013
  28. 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.

    Mark. wrote on April 6th, 2013
  29. Very interesting indeed. I always wondered what head cheese was and it actually does not sound as bad as I imagined!

    kell wrote on April 6th, 2013
  30. 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!

    Madeleine wrote on April 6th, 2013
  31. 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.

    Sam wrote on April 7th, 2013
  32. 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.

    Danni wrote on April 7th, 2013
  33. 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!

    Salima wrote on April 7th, 2013
  34. 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.

    Juli wrote on April 7th, 2013
  35. 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”.

    James wrote on April 7th, 2013
  36. 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 idea how to de-fur them? I’ve shaved them before but that was just to remove a few stray hairs.

    Here’s a handy tip: make sure the meat is almost too hot to touch when you separate the tasty bits from the inedible bits. It gets crazy sticky as it cools. What y’all are describing as collagen cubes I call trotter gear and learned about it from the amazing Fergus Henderson who says that trotter gear has “unctuous potential” and is your gastronomic friend. I always have some in my freezer to add body and flavor to soups and sauces. Great stuff!

    hc wrote on April 7th, 2013
  37. 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.

    Brian wrote on April 7th, 2013

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