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Adventure Food: Head cheese is not actually a cheese at all

The Origin

Head cheese was originated in Europe around 1935-45. As per English usage, cheese is supposed to be a milk product. ‘Head cheese’, for that matter, is not cheese at all since it does not contain any milk. Head cheese is a meat jelly which is prepared usually from the meats of the heads of a calf or a pig.

The cuisine

It is prepared by removing the inedible parts such as the eyes and brain, while ears, tongue, feet and heart are usually added. Then meat is simmered and stock is produced. This stock, when cools down, becomes a jelly due to the presence of natural gelatin present in the brain. Highly nutritious and flavorsome, is it supposed to be cooked at low heat for short time.

The cooking process depends on the culture of the place and taste of the people. Like in the southern US, it’s known as sulz while the German head cheese contains beef tongue too. In Denmark, it is heavily spiced while in Estonia, additional vegetable and carrots are added to improve the flavor.

Head cheese

The wacky tinge

  1. As per English usage, cheese is supposed to be a milk product. But, this is not a sort of cheese as it does not contain any milk.
  2. Since it is plain meat taken from various uncommon parts of the animal, it may not be very appealing when looked at. So, that wacky tinge would always be there while you are cooking it, and even after it is cooked.
  3. It is not very attractive to look at and to be sold to customers in its original form, thus, it is decorated with spices and it is cut and packed beautifully, so as to be able to be kept on shelves of large stores.
  4. Lots of traditional seasonings including onions, salt, vinegar, black pepper, nutmeg, mace, cloves, marjoram, cardamom, garlic, caraway, thyme and ginger are added to improve it.
  5. Various types of head cheese include the regular variant, the tongue being one of those. The one which uses blood too is called the Blood Head Cheese. The Souse, where vinegar is also added. While Sulz is made of pig’s feet.

Ingredients

  1. Pork head after removing eyes, ears and brain
  2. Water
  3. Salt, the amount of which varies between 1.5 to 2%.

Additional ingredients according to flavor would include:

  1. Cloves, peppercorn and nutmeg
  2. Garlic and onions
  3. Chopped celery or other green leaves you wish to add
  4. Bay and thyme leaves
  5. Carrot, bell peppers and parsley
  6. Vinegar for additional tinge

Process

The process of cooking is easy but requires certain rules to be observed. The first rule says that all the meat and skin have to be cooked thoroughly, until that get soft. Meats have to be covered with 1 to 2 inches of water and should be simmered for 2 to 3 hours. Take care not to add too much of water, otherwise there would not be enough gelatin to hold it together. Skins can also be boiled separately, cooled and cut into slices. The second rule says that the meat should be then removed from bones and should be filtered through cheese cloth, until clarified. The remaining ingredients are then added to change the flavor of the original stuff.

Heath benefits

One serving of a 28 gram head cheese contains 52 calories, 3.7 gm fat and 4.4 gm protein. It does not contain any carbohydrate and contains very less vitamins, only B in good quantities, which is crucial is lessening the threat of anemia. Other vitamins present in much smaller quantities include vitamin B6, vitamin A, Thiamine, Niacin and Pantothenic acid.

As far as minerals are concerned, intake of iron and copper can be increased by taking head cheese. Vitamin B-12, iron and copper also contribute in generation of red blood cells. Other minerals in smaller quantities include calcium and magnesium.

You will have problem in taking head cheese only if you wish to cut your sodium intake, since head cheese contains 300 gm of sodium, which is 20% of the limit prescribed by the American Heart Association. The risks associated with taking large quantities of sodium include heart problems and swelling of limbs.

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