Ok, it is time for a confession. I recently hit my gross-out level, when it comes to preparing food, in the form of a pig’s face. I am all about using the whole animal, but when I was confronted by the reality of a hog’s head sitting in a pot in my kitchen, I had to take a moment and get out my big girl pants.
My family recently purchased half of a hog from a local heritage breeder. One of the reasons that we chose this farm, was that they included ALL the parts of the animal in our order. This was great! I now had a chance to makes some great stocks with bones, an ear and had the caul fat to wrap around other roasts. But it also meant that I now had half of a pig’s head, complete with all its original parts.
I made the decision (before I unwrapped it), that I would make head cheese. This is a traditional pork terrine that uses all of the bits from the head set with stock. I have eaten these in Europe, but never made anything like it before.
Mostly the method for making this is to boil the head for a long time, remove the meat, and then continue to boil the bones down until you have a really gelatinous stock. Then you dice the meat and various bits, season, and press into your terrine. The stock gets poured over and you let everything set. Simple.
However, I ran into problems as soon as I confronted the eyelashes on my pig’s face. Somehow I thought it would be a little less like a living breathing animal, and more like a piece of animal shaped meat. I didn’t want to handle it, let alone boil it for eternity and pick it apart. But since I am constantly evangelizing people to use more of the animal, there was no way I was going to be able to back out and toss it in the trash. So, I did it. I didn’t even make gross-out faces because my kids were watching and I wanted them to be comfortable with the thought of eating all the parts of an animal.
As a side note, my boys are generally happy to connect the animals we see to the meat they eat. They are the weird children trying to trap ducks at the park because they taste good.
The disgust and unease that I felt prepping my pig’s head gave me a bit more sympathy for my friends who have a hard time handling meat, and it also helped me realize that I have a long ways to go myself on my journey towards food accountability. I am still not ready to be a vegetarian, but I can tell you that I will eat a lot less pork if I have to look it in the face every time. But, that is probably how it should be, at least some of the time. We need these visceral reminders about where our food comes from, or we too easily forget that this plastic-wrapped package of chops used to have eye-lashes and a face.
My pork terrine was tasty. Eating it, honestly, was more an act of will than enjoyment for me. I did serve it to some friends and my family, minus the backstory, and they all seemed to at least find it acceptable.
Now I have a story to tell and a greater appreciation for my own weaknesses as well as the true challenge of facing up to our food. Next step… does anyone know what to do with a pig’s heart?