A few weeks ago I was dining on a patio and enjoying a Lone Star longneck when a friend of mine started rambling about an art project involving a hog head. I could see her lips moving, but the sound of the words faded into a childhood memory of eating something super-delicious that my grandma (Maw Maw, that is) used to make: hog head cheese. My friend noticed the glazed look on my face and asked me what was up.
"Nothing. I gotta go home and make some hog head cheese," I blurted before hopping the patio fence and diving through my car window Duke boy-style.
Before it was trendy at restaurants, people used to cook every single part of swines, bovines and any other animules that they had nearby because they couldn't afford to waste anything. Most farms had hogs, since they were the original green machines, getting fat off of food scraps tossed in their trough. Slaughter the hog, prep all the good parts and what's left? Head, feet and tail.
Naturally these culinary visionaries of yesteryear saved the tail for pin the tail on the donkey and tossed the rest in a pot and wrangled it until something good came out.
I called 92 year-old Maw Maw on my way from Moon Tower to Foodarama, quizzing her on the ins and outs of making hog head cheese. The first words out of her mouth were, "Don't use a hog head. It's too much work. Use a Boston butt instead." She went on to explain that Great Maw Maw used the head, as did she, until deciding that picking meat off the head wasn't worth it. Further, no one could tell that it was a butt (which is actually a pork shoulder).
Before you bomb me with "it's not authentic if it's not a head" in the comments, you need to consider that it's not truly authentic unless you've got a hog in your backyard that you plan on field dressing on your clothesline posts before butchering it in front of your astounded neighbors. Should you insist on using a genuine head, Maw Maw advises that you remove the eyes before you boil it. She did not proffer any additional details on why, not that I wanted them.
Maw Maw's Hog Head Cheese
- 4 - 5 lbs. Boston Butt
- 4 pig feet
- 3 onions finely chopped
- 4 - 5 cloves garlic minced
- 1 envelope gelatin
- 1 bunch green onion finely chopped
- 1 tsp. all spice
- ½ cup oil
- Salt, black and red pepper to taste
Put the pig feet (yes, you need these because the feet contribute natural gelatin and flava) in a large pot with just enough water to cover them. Boil them for about 30 to 45 minutes.
Cube the butt, trimming the fat along the way. Add cubed pork, onion and garlic to the pot and cook until tender; about 20 to 30 minutes.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the feet and meat from juice. Leave juice in the pot; skim fat if desired.
Pick all feet meat from bones. Chop meat into small pieces (authentic) or use food processor on course setting (be careful not to over-Cuisinart your way straight to pork paste).
Return the pork to the pot and add salt, peppers and allspice. Cook until the mixture gets very thick; roughly 15 minutes.
Mix gelatin with ¼ cup cold water. Add gelatin and green onion to boiling liquid.
Remove from fire and pour into molds (authentic if they're cast iron) or a 9" x 13" nonstick baking pan (reality).
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Let the hog head cheese cool before refrigerating it.
Don't be shy when adding the pepper to taste, but remember that you can always spice it up during serving. And, not everyone wants something that melts their fillings PS.
If you find that the mixture does not congeal properly, you can cook it down again, add another gelatin envelope and repeat the molding step.