Death of a pig, (part 9) Head Cheese

Nearly 4 months after he was delivered to us Hoosier’s hoof-prints are still making big imprints on our menus.  We are using the leaf fat for the biscuits being serving with fried chicken on our lunch menu.  His jowls, that we cured to make guanciale are being served with a locally produced Buratta cheese.


Peppered Coppa

On our Charcuterie Chalkboard we are still featuring spiced coppa,  his back fat is in our kielbasa and chicken sausage, and the fat from the hams we smoked are being used to make ham fat – potato croquettes.  The remaining freezer fodder includes some smoked skin and bones, a fair amount of back fat and a few pounds of meat that will end up as sausage, rillettes or even braised.


Beyond all that, I just made a non-traditional head cheese, inspired by the head cheese I had at  Cochon a great restaurant in New Orleans.  A few winters back Colleen and I happened by, walking for miles, as we do every time we visit an unfamiliar city.  I had heard of Cochon and since it was about time for a refreshment break, mid-afternoon, we sat outside in the hot February sun, we ordered up some drinks and one of their house-made charcuterie platters.  All of the charcuterie was good, but the head cheese was memorable. It changed the way I have approached making it ever since.

head cheese

Typical Supermarket Head Cheese

Typically it’s the bits of the head; the tongue, ears, cheeks, skin and fat separated by overly gelatinous substance, resulting in a barely palatable concoction. It’s like eating a salty version of that Jello-canned fruit crap my mother would make for us back in the seventies.


At Cochon it appeared as though they pureed together some of the head fat with some reduced braising liquid from cooking the head and then folded in the other bits before pouring in all into a terrine to be chilled.




I made it like that a few times with great results, it really is so much better than the traditional version.


EVOO’s Head Cheese

I decided to take it one step further and smoke the head before braising it, wow, head cheese went from barely palatable to really good to I want some now!  The smoked version is by far the best; sweet, smoky, salty and super rich.  We currently have it on our charcuterie chalkboard, as is, sliced on a board.  On EVOO’s dinner menu we have made a croquette out of it, breading and deep frying a thick slice, serving it with last summer’s raspberry jam, pickled green tomatoes, scallion – green peppercorn sour cream and a butter basted egg.



Head Cheese Croquette

We’ll see if Hoosier offers up any other delicacies worthy of another post. He has had an amazing run on our menu, we greatly appreciate all that he has given us.

Death of a pig (part 7.5)

Back to the ham, I had a Panini today made with Hoosier’s ham.  It was fantastic, Mark (our day sous chef) did the sweet and smoky ham up with Robinson Farm’s (Hardwick, MA) Family Swiss and dill pickled onions served on Raul’s (our baker) sandwich bread. I enjoyed with some of our homemade fries and Alex’s (our long-time lunch cook) tangy ketchup.

My lunch, fries were added after I took the photo.


Death of a pig (part 8) Saucisson Sec

Making dry cured sausage is simple; grind some meat mix it with spices, stuff it into casings and hang it to dry in a fairly humid, cool space, then wait. To quote Tom Petty “the waiting is the hardest part”.  Three-ish weeks later, if all goes well you have a beautiful semi-dried full flavored, rich, fatty, dry, slightly tangy, cured sausage.  I have made this recipe many times with varied results, mostly great.  However, once in a while I have gotten a batch that just doesn’t work.  Don’t worry when it’s not right it’s obvious, it does not have the rosy meat color you expect from air-dried cured meat, it looks kinda gross and smells rotten.

Below is a pictorial of the steps we used to turn Hoosier’s fat and flesh into Saucisson Sec (dry-cured sausage).

Ground pork mixed with spices.


The trusty hand cranked sausage stuffer, many hundreds of pounds of sausage have been made using this beast over the 15 plus years we have had it.


I’m pushing out the sausage into casings.


Sizing them up.


Hanging them to dry in our curing room, next to some duck prosciutto that is just about done.


Three weeks hanging and they’re done.



Though we still have quite a bit of Hoosier left to use; most notably the head and a bunch of meat to braise, it may be a while before we get into it.  I will continue to write about as we utilize it.



Death of a pig (part 7) Ham

After two plus weeks in brine and 14 hours in the smoker Hoosier’s American Style Smoked Hams are done and they are beautiful; sweet, smoky, moist and tender.  We have been making this style of hams for many years, tweaking the recipe and methods to ensure a great ham every time.

Hoosier’s hams – each ham is cut into three pieces, brined, tied, smoked, chilled and sliced.

Smoking our own hams bring us much more than ham (the meat).  The meat could end up in ham sandwiches, part of a pasta dish, paired with cheese for a first course or even as a ham steak.  The skin makes a smoky gelatinous stock we often use in pigs skin risotto, soups and stews.  Scraps and bits are often used as a flavoring ingredient, such as in our Bangkok Chicken Wings where we pair the sweet ‘n’ smoky ham with Thai fish sauce, lime juice and spicy chilies.  We also always place a pan directly under the smoker to collect the drippings (liquid bacon), which finds its way into vinaigrette, sauces and marinades.

The fat that surrounds the ham, often 1 1/2″ to 2″ thick is freaking amazing.  Currently on our menu are Ham Fat-Potato Croquettes.  We take two parts diced ham fat and combine it with one part mashed potato, roll it into balls, bread ’em and then fry ’em. We’re serving them with mustard cream and last summer’s pickles.

A few of the dishes we are / have served using Hoosier’s hams-

Blue Corn Biscuits with Backroom Smoked Ham, Pete’s Sweet Pickles and Robinson Farm’s Swiss Cheese


Bangkok Chicken Wings
Sliced and served with local Burratina, arugula and Pete’s Pickled Peppers


Ham Fat Croquettes


The next post will be about Saucisson Sec, a dry cured sausage we made from Hoosier.