What is head cheese?
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 often 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 the feet and heart, may be included. It can also be made from trimmings from pork and veal, adding gelatin to the stock as a binder.
Head cheese is usually eaten cold or at room temperature.
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, 'potted heid' in Scotland, 'brawn' elsewhere in Britain and Australia. The term 'souse' for the pickled variety is North American and West Indian.
In certain parts of Canada the typical jellied meat available in stores is labelled "head cheese", whether or not it is actually made from the head.
In the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, head cheese is called souse. Pennsylvania Germans usually prepare it from the meat of pig's feet or tongue and it is pickled with sausage.