Headcheese is a meat jelly made from the head of a calf, pig, or sheep, typically served in aspic. “Aspic” might sound like a poisonous chemical, but it’s in fact just chopped-up ingredients held together with meat stock or consommé infused with gelatin. Meat jellies became popular many centuries ago when the head of an animal was cleaned (oftentimes the eyes, ears, and brain were already removed) and simmered to produce stock. When the stock cools, it becomes gummy, and firm from by-products derived from the skull’s natural gelatin and collagen. The unpleasant parts of the head (bones, eyelashes, etc.) could be discarded, and the meat could be pulled from all the nooks and crannies. Cooks found that after discarding the pots or molds, the cooled liquid could be poured over the meat, cooled further until set, and then served. It’s a great way to preserve meat. The jelly keeps air and bacteria out, while sealing flavor in. And it’s delicious!
Speaking of Gelatin…
Did you know marshmallow is a plant native to Africa, scientifically named Althaea officinalis? Ancient Egyptians made the first marshmallows from the root of the plant. Their original purpose as to soothe a sore throat. Marshmallows were hard to make. In the nineteenth century, French manufacturers developed a marshmallow recipe, using gelatin with a combination of sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, and water, whipped into a spongy consistency. These are the marshmallows we know today.
Don’t get headcheese confused with cheese heads. While neither are really cheese, cheese heads are not edible. A cheese head is the name for someone from Wisconsin, and now it more specifically refers to fans of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. The name started as a derogatory term from Illinois football and baseball fans to make fun of their opposing Wisconsin teams. Wisconsin fans took the name on proudly, claiming the title. In 1987, Ralph Bruno, a fan, made himself a hat out of foam that looked like Swiss cheese. He wore the hat to a Milwaukee Brewers game and started to sell them after the hats gained attention. Today, Lambeau Field is filled with the yellow foam hats.
Cheese is such a wonderful food. It is an excellent source of calcium, vitamins, and protein. Not to mention, it’s delicious! While I’m not a Packers fan (I’m more of a New York Giants man), I am a cheese fan. Does that make me a cheese head?