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. 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!

    Shawn wrote on April 7th, 2013
  2. This sound yummy, for sure will try it
    Would this work using a slow cooker?

    wildgrok wrote on April 7th, 2013
  3. 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 :)

    John wrote on April 9th, 2013
  4. Bought some parts, plan on making soon. But I think I’m going to call it “toe jam”. :-)

    Merry wrote on April 9th, 2013
  5. 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

    Ulla Lauridsen wrote on April 9th, 2013
  6. 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!

    prufock wrote on April 9th, 2013
  7. Nicholas Smith wrote on April 9th, 2013
  8. 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. wrote on April 9th, 2013
  9. 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.

    Galina L. wrote on April 9th, 2013
  10. 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 ethnic grocery store. Usually I cook them in the crockpot 6-8 hours or overnight. After I separate the bones, I put them in clean water and make more broth.
    So I first made the recipe just for myself. I didn’t want to serve it as dinner because that’s asking a lot from the kids. My little daughter did try it. She says she likes it. I think she is trying to make me happy. After eating a few pigs feet, I usually chop up a cabbage and throw it in with the broth and meat. It makes a nice asian seasoned soup. I made that soup today and my little one asked for it for dinner.

    Pigs feet are affordable enough to use them as dog food. I make a kind of head cheese for the dog. I cook them with no seasonings. Then I throw in some chicken gizzards, or whatever organ meat I buy. After cooking I pull out the bones, chop up the meat in the food processor and let it chill in the fridge.

    ValerieH wrote on April 9th, 2013
  11. wow i love it cheese. well thanks for articles.

    podiatry instruments suppliers wrote on April 10th, 2013
  12. Im going to try it this weekend. Reminds me of my grandmothers Cambodian head cheese. She simmers the pig feet with the heat of the sun, in a jar for one month. Shes 95 and still ticking.

    cambosoup wrote on April 10th, 2013
  13. I want to try head cheese. I love pork fat. Sometimes I cook roasts or bacon over a fire and when I can get cans of pork free from a shelter that gives out care packages I gorge on them.
    I’ve got a lot of organ meat right now but it’s been raining a lot for four days so I can’t cook it, I suppose unless I burn through one or part of one of two remaining candles to heat up planks of wood sheltered in a shed and light them. May just do that tonight.. that’s where my grill is and I was going to buy batteries anyway so I can listen to music at the edge of a woods in my little trespassing shelter (workers on the property are cool, they won’t tell the boss I’m staying there :)) so I can use some of those for my flashlight.. I like candles much more though. They’re very nice for lighting a room at night when you can make due with dim light and want to fall asleep soon after.

    Animanarchy wrote on April 11th, 2013
    • Eating at the computer can disrupt the attention span. I was going to add to that comment: one of the two major grocery stores near the core of this town has recently started carrying a lot of offal/tripe: pig’s feet, chicken liver, hearts, gizzards; beef hearts and liver; pork feet and liver pate. I’m delighted about that. It’s why I have a stash of organ meat – it’s nutritious and affordable. Now I can regularly dine on offal so it’s going to be incorporated into my eating plan along with lots of eggs and sardines, my animal food basics.. seems hearty to me. I just have to throw in a little plant food and maybe some stuff that’s more medicinal like cacao, tea, molasses and I’m good to go.
      In the other major grocery store here, which I’m unofficially banned from because of an uptight bumbklatt manager who couldn’t tolerate a red-wine buzzed person shopping, they only had beef liver that I saw. It’s all good though. I got 1.2 kg of organic dark chocolate from that store shortly after being banned, and due to the circumstances it was free.

      Animanarchy wrote on April 11th, 2013
  14. Just made a batch – now waiting impatiently for 8 hr set time to elapse.

    I put finely chopped garlic, shallot, and celery, along with allspice, peppercorns, and bay leaf, into the broth.

    joetexx wrote on April 13th, 2013
  15. That looks amazing, but is there a vegan version?

    Veggielover wrote on September 2nd, 2013
  16. Just use tofu :)

    VeganFace wrote on September 2nd, 2013
  17. Just wondering if it’s possible to freeze Head Cheese.

    Ray Branson wrote on November 7th, 2013
  18. I am Cajun. Need I say more? Giving this lifestyle a try. Have high hopes for it!!!! Wish me luck

    LeBlanc wrote on November 2nd, 2014

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