Fromage de Tête

Brawn

This recipe for brawn, also known, in a direct translation, as head cheese, comes from a booklet of old family recipes written by the mothers and grandmothers of Valvignères for a group of young people in the village who were keen to preserve them. With great enterprise, they photocopied the collection and sold them at the annual village festival.

First salt the pig’s head, or half-head, for 2–3 days. You may be able to persuade your butcher to do this for you. But otherwise make a good layer of salt in a large bowl and bed the pig’s head into it, rub salt into the cut surfaces and sprinkle a good layer of salt over the head. Leave in a cool place for 2–3 days but pour off the liquid each day.

Wash off the salt and soak the head in cold water for 8–12 hours. Place in a large pan (I usually use a preserving pan) and pour in water to cover. Add 3 glasses of white wine, some cloves of garlic, parsley, carrots, onions, leeks, a few cloves and peppercorns and very little salt, if any. It’s best to add salt later.

Bring the water to the boil very slowly, turn down the heat and allow the pig’s head to simmer very gently, for 4–8 hours until the meat falls easily from the bone. Add extra water during the cooking, if necessary.

Take out the head and on several large plates take all the meat from the bones and chop it neatly but not too small. Spoon the meat into one large or several smaller bowls or jars.

Strain the stock and taste. Reduce ½–1 litre (1–2 pints) with a glass of white wine, checking the taste now and again until you have about the right amount to pour over the meat. (If the stock that’s over tastes good enough, store in the freezer for cooking dried peas or beans.)

Leave the containers of brawn in a cool place until set, turn out and slice. Serve as a hors d’oeuvre or place the sliced brawn on a serving dish, pour over a vinaigrette mixed with plenty of fresh herbs and serve as one of the cold dishes at a family lunch or buffet meal.

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