Head cheese or brawn is a cold cut that originated in Europe. A version pickled with vinegar is known as souse. Head cheese is not a dairy cheese, but a terrine or meat jelly made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig, or less commonly a sheep or cow, and often set in aspic. The parts of the head used vary, but the brain, eyes, and ears are usually removed. The tongue, and sometimes even the feet and heart, may be included.
Historically, meat jellies were made of the cleaned (all organs removed) head of the animal, which was simmered to produce stock, a peasant food made since the Middle Ages. When cooled, the stock congeals because of the natural gelatin found in the skull. The aspic may need additional gelatin, or more often, reduction to set properly.
The term head cheese is used in North America,brawn in Britain and Australia, though more commonly potted heid is used in Scotland. The term souse for the pickled variety is North American and West Indian.
This cut is generally known as hladetina, and is commonly produced after the traditional slaughter of pigs. A strongly seasoned version of this cut is called tlačenica or švargla (the latter being a loan-word from German). The name švargl is used for a variant where the chopped parts are stuffed inside the pig's stomach, similar to Scottish haggis.
In the Czech Republic, the huspenina or sulc (from German Sülze) is made from pig's heads and/or legs boiled together, chopped, mixed into their own broth, poured into a pan, and left in the cold to solidify. Other ingredients include onion, pepper, allspice, bayleaf, vinegar, salt, carrot, parsley, root celery, and sometimes eggs. A similar product, tlačenka, is basically huspenina with some more meat, chopped liver and various offal, poured into a prepared pig stomach and left to solidify under the weight. Tlačenka is generally thicker than huspenina, and it is commonly eaten with chopped onions and sprinkled with vinegar.
Sylte, sylta or aladåb, was originally made from head of pig, but is now commonly made from the forequarters or shanks of pork or veal and seasoned with allspice, bay leaves, and thyme, and forms part of the traditional Christmas smörgåsbord, served on rugbrød or lefse with strong mustard and pickled beetroots. A rolled version (Danish/Norwegian: rullepølse, Swedish: rullsylta) made in an otherwise similar way also exists, however this contains only very little aspic .
Sült is similar to the German or Croatian dish (the name is a loan, as well), but is usually less seasoned and is made from higher quality meat. Sometimes carrots or greens are added. It is a traditional Christmas dish, but is sold in stores year round. The traditional sült is made from pork using its gelatinous parts. Beef, poultry and fish variants also are available.
In Germany, head cheese is known as Sülze, Schwartenmagen or Presskopf. In Bavaria, Presssack comes in three varieties (deep red, pinkish, and grey) in the form of a large (15 cm-diameter) sausage. Sülze can have a tangy flavour due to the addition of pickles or vinegar. It usually takes the form of a rectangular loaf, which is then sliced into portions. There is a white coloured variety and two different red ones, using blood, one made with beef tongue (as in Zungenwurst) and aspic, the other without. In Franconia, Saurer Presssack is served in a salad with a vinaigrette and vegetables.
German Schwartenmagen in a tin as it is sold as a type of hausmacher Wurst
Early references to Sulcze in documents of the Counts of Katzenelnbogen date from 1410 and 1430.
A variant of head cheese, malacarc,disznósajt or disznófősajt (pork cheese or pork head cheese), is made of mixed meat slices (especially from the head of the pig,) spices, paprika, and pieces of bacon cooked in spicy stock. The chopped meat is stuffed into the pig's stomach, similarly to Scottish haggis, pricked with needles, then pressed down with weights to remove excess fat and make it tight and compact. Often it is smoked like sausages or ham.
In Genoa, a similar cold cut goes by the name of testa in cassetta, literally "head in a box", but it is possible to find it throughout the entire central and northern Italy, where it is called coppa di testa, or simply coppa, or – in some northern regions – formaggio di testa (head cheese). In central Italy (Lazio, Umbria), it is common to put orange peel pieces in it, or to serve it in a salad together with oranges and black olives.
Galerts is similar Latvian food consisting from meat in gelatin, often with vegetables, such as carrots, and celery added to the resulting colloidal suspension. Horseradish and/or vinegar can be poured over the galerts when serving it.
Headcheese is known under several regional names and variations. In Brabant, it is called zult and is made with blood. Pig's foot provides the gelatin and a little vinegar is added to it. In Limburg, it is called hoofdkaas, meaning head cheese, and is eaten on bread or with Limburgisch sausage as a starter. A red, sweet variety and a slightly sour, grey variety are available. The red one can be compared to Brabanticzult. Both zult and preskop are also found in Limburg, though zult is less sour, whereas preskop often contains black pepper and is eaten on wholewheat bread. In Belgium, head cheese is also called kop or kopvlees, which translates as "meat from the head".
In Poland, head cheese is referred to as salceson, a name possibly derived from saucisson, the French word for a type of sausage. The several varieties of salceson depend on the ingredients; black salceson contains blood, white salceson is made with a mixture of seasoned meats without blood, and ozorkowy (tongue) salceson uses tongue as the major meat component.
The two versions of it are tobă (drum) or, especially in Transylvania, caş de cap de porc (pig head cheese, akin to the Hungarian disznófősajt), which looks like a wide sausage, 4-inch diameter, and the marginally similar piftie. This is the same dish as Serbian and Macedonian pihtije), in which the contents are poured into a bowl and refrigerated. Piftie is not necessarily head meat, but can be different kinds of meat, boiled with garlic and bay leaves. It is prepared by boiling pig's feet to make a soup, because they contain more gelatin than any other part of the pig. The mixture is then cooled to make a jelly. Usually, garlic is added.
In Russia and Ukraine, head cheese is a popular food for festive occasions. In Ukraine, it is called kovbyk (ковбик). Beef or lamb head cheese is also popular in the Jewish community. It is more popularly called saltisón (салтисон) or holodets (холодец).
A special variety of head cheese, called tlačenka (pressed one), is very popular in Slovakia. It is made of pork stomach stuffed with offal and leftover parts of pig's heads and legs. It is seasoned with garlic, paprika, black pepper, and other ingredients and usually smoked. It is traditionally served with sliced onion, vinegar, and bread.
Known as sylta, a few variations are available with different meats, spices and preparation methods, the most popular being kalvsylta (veal brawn), pressylta (pressed pork and veal brawn), and rullsylta (rolled and pressed side of pork). Common seasonings are onions, white pepper, allspice, cloves, salt and bay leaves and occasionally carrots and herbs are added to the ingredients. Sylta is often regarded as a seasonal food eaten at the julbord at Christmas.
In England and Wales, head cheese is referred to as brawn or (in Yorkshire and Norfolk) pork cheese. In Scotland, it is known as potted heid (potted head of beef, pork or sheep); the similar potted haugh or hough is made from the shank of the animal.
In certain parts of Northern China, such as Beijing, 'pig head meat' is cooked and thinly sliced and served at room temperature. In another Northern city: Tianjin, yaorou (肴肉) is made by boning and pickling pig trotters with brine and alum. The meat is then rolled, pressed and eaten cold. In northeastern China, a jellied pork skin dish is often made and served with a spicy soy sauce and vinegar mixture with crushed garlic and red chili powder.
In Vietnam around Tết, giò thủ is made in celebration for the New Year. It is a traditional snack made of fresh bacon, pig’s ears, garlic, scallions, onions, black fungus, fish sauce and cracked black pepper. Traditionally, giò thủ (pork head meat pie) is wrapped in banana leaves and compressed in a wooden mold until the gelatin in the pig’s ears causes it to stick together.
In Australia, it is known as brawn or Presswurst. It is usually seen as something of an old-fashioned dish, although various large firms, such as Don and KR Castlemaine produce it.
In the Caribbean
Souse is pickled meat and trimmings usually made from pig's feet, chicken feet or cow's tongue, to name a few. The cooked meat or trimmings are cut into bite-sized pieces and soaked in a brine made of water, lime juice, cucumbers, hot pepper, salt and specially prepared seasonings. It is usually eaten on Saturday mornings, especially in St. Vincent and Barbados. In Trinidad and Tobago, it is served or sold at most social gatherings, such as parties, all-inclusive fetes and sporting competitions.
In Latin America
Head cheese is very popular and is usually referred to as queso de cabeza in Chile and Colombia, and queso de puerco in Mexico. In Peru, Ecuador and Costa Rica, it is also known as queso de chancho. It is known as queso de Cerdo in Uruguay and Argentina. In Panama, it is known as sao (from Caribbean English souse), made with pig's feet and prepared the same way as in the Caribbean; it is a dish from the Caribbean coast, where most of Panama's West Indian community lives.
In Brazil, head cheese is very popular among the gaucho population and is commonly known as queijo de porco (pig cheese). In the German-colonized cities, such as Pomerode and Blumenau, it follows the German recipe and is known as Sülze'.
The highly seasoned hog's head cheese is very popular as a cold cut or appetizer. A pig's foot provides the gelatin that sets the cheese, and vinegar is typically added to give a sour taste. It is a popular Cajun food and is often encountered seasoned with green onions. In Mississippi, Alabama, and other southern states, it is encountered in a spicy form known as souse or less spicy hog's head cheese.