Sorry I have been away so long, but nothing has excited me enough to post. You might be sorry I’m back after this post.
This delicacy is popular worldwide. It’s also called by many different names. Some of you may know it as Head Cheese or Coppa Di Testa. It comes from the head meat of an animal, in this case a pig, and cooked in a mixture of vinegar and flavorings. Because of the calogen that is abundant in the animal’s head and bones, the liquid turns to gelatin when cooled. It’s also known as aspic. Grandma Isabella used to make Gelatina with pigs feet and fresh ham hocks and it worked quite well. I used to love eating the gelatina right out of the jar she packed it in. I realize not many of you are lucky enough to have a good friend that raises pigs. My friend Noemi brought her pig to market and I share in half the pig. But in my half I had her include the head and trotters, pig’s feet. Great components for Gelatina.
I know this recipe may not be for everyone. As my son Joseph said when he saw the pig’s head in my freezer, “That’s weird! Having what I’m going to eat stare at me.” You can order a pig’s head at your local butcher. I had them cut it in quarters so it’s easier to handle. And it doesn’t quite look like a head if it’s cut up. If getting a pig’s head is too much for you than you can buy fresh pig’s feet and hocks and cook them in the same way. You really want the full pig’s leg for this, which include the feet and hocks.
I went through my arsenal and the only pot large enough I had to fit this head in was my good old canning pot. Even with the pig’s head cut into quarters it didn’t fit in anything else I had, and I have some large pots. I took out the brains and eyes and cut off the ears and gave them to my German Shepherd Bella. She loved them! We all benefit from this feast! Did I just go too far there?
Gelatina di Maiale
- 1 pig’s head, or fresh pig’s feet and hocks, or a combo of both.
- 1 large onion, halved
- 6 bay leaves
- 10 peppercorns
- 10 allspice berries
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- salt & pepper to taste
If you are using the pig’s head, remove the brains, ears and eyes. You can discard them. Wash the head and feet well in cold water.
Place the head and feet in a large pot. Fill the pot with cold water just enough to cover. Add the onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, allspice berries and apple cider vinegar. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a slight simmer, skim off the foam that floats to the top. Cover and simmer for 5 hours.
Remove the head and feet from the pot and put aside to cool. Turn up the heat high and reduce the liquid by a third.
Remove from the heat and strain the liquid through multiple layers of cheese cloth.
Pick through and remove all the meat from the bones. You will know what the meat is. Pull out the tongue and peel off the outer layer. Add that to the meat. Season with salt and pepper.
Pack the prepared mixture into a loaf pan that’s lined with enough plastic wrap that it hangs over the edges. Ladle spoonfuls of the reduced liquid over the meat. Allow to cool to room temperature then cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day when the liquid had set to gelatin, you can turn the pan over a dish and pull on the plastic wrap to help get it out of the pan.
The only way I can describe the flavor of this dish is the meat has a richness to it. It’s very “porky”. The fact my pig was raised organically and locally would have given it a better taste than the soy and corn-fed pigs you buy commercially. Either way, it was a “hoot” trying to make this traditional dish and if you have the heart and stomach (and head) to give it a try, it’s well worth your time.