Another old skill - charcuterie

13 April 2011
Charcuterie is the culinary term for meats such as bacon, ham, sausages, terrines and pâtés.  I delved into the wonderful world of charcuterie recently with an old favourite - brawn as it is known in Australia and the UK, or headcheese as it is know in north America.  These types of meats developed as a way of preserving meat before canning and refrigeration.  Now they're seen in may countries as specialist meats often sold only in delicatessens.

After spending a night in the fridge, the gelatinous stock held a layer of fat on the top.  It was easily scraped off and the stock reheated to continue the process. 

When cooked for a couple of hours, the meat and bones yield their natural gelatine which was what I was after.  I wanted to see if I could make my own without using any added gelatine and while it formed into a good loaf, it didn't hold together well when sliced.  It tasted good though.  One of the added benefits of making brawn in the old days was that it helped the housewife avoid waste and use the entire animal. Traditionally made with a pig's head and feet, I made mine using chicken wings and a pork shoulder.  Next time I do it, I'll add a couple of sheets of gelatine.

I boiled the meats for about three hours with some bay leaves, peppercorns, a cup of apple cider vinegar and an onion and allowed them to cool.  Usually the brawn is made straight away but I wanted to remove the fat from the liquid and when I stored it in the fridge overnight, that is what I did the next morning.  Then I reheated the liquid, added the finely chopped meat and shredded chicken wing meat, two finely chopped green onions, chopped fresh parsley, red capsicum/pepper, two tablespoons apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper and packed it all into some loaf tins.  Stored overnight in the fridge, it came out of the tin the next day and although the slices don't hold together well, it makes a very good lunchtime sandwich on homemade sourdough.


  1. I've enjoyed reading your post and enjoy learning about how people did things in the past. I'll be back! Blessings:) Sherry

  2. Funny thing is that brawn was the subject at our craft group the "Cackle Club" recently,some of the older ladies had been bought up o it, for me it is one of my husbands fouvourite things,my mother in law gave me a brawn press which is like a steamer with a screw down lid which compresses the brawn to a lovely solid state,I believe these are still available to buy,isn't it wonderful how "everything old is new again".

  3. it looks delicious, it is what was called hog head cheese
    in my childhood days and some called it sause (rhimes with mouse) :o) The old fashioned homemade was the best.

  4. Good morning, Rhonda!
    Like many of your readers, I've been "around" for a long time, but never said smth. I just had to give you this romanian recipe..I'm sure you'll love it and there's no need for gelatine.
    500 gr. pig's feet, 1.250 g pig's head, 500 g meat (pork, of course ), 150 g celery root, 150 g carrots, 150 g onions, 75 g garlic, 50 g salt. All ingredients (except for the garlic )must be boiled for hours, until the meat falls from the bones. Then just put the meat (in pieces ) in a bowl with the carrots cut nice, then pour the strained liquid (with the crushed garlic) over and let it cool overnight. It's delicious. The ingredients are for 10 ppl, so I guess you'll adjust the amount for your needs. Let me know if you liked it...I have lots of "from scratch" recipes, because people in this country cherrish the traditional way of living ( mostly because until 1989 we were forced to live very frugal).
    I love your blog and look for a new post every night ( morning in your part of the world).

  5. This is a very interesting to post to me as my son and I were just reading about head cheese last week in the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Rhonda, to get a good gelatine happening in your stock you need more bones like the chicken backs, necks and legs.....and also ox tail, shanks,any part of an animal with connective tissue...its also a good idea to get your butcher to cut the shin bones into that more goodness is released and they fit in your pot easier....then you boil it all for 2 hours and skim the chilled fat from you did. I bet its yummy with pork and chicken...well done.

  7. Hi Rhonda,
    This is completely unrelated to your post today, I've just made a dummy washcloth, love it, it cleans very well but....oh did it stretch, 4ply cotton? I read that you said they 'tend' to stretch but this is unreal!

  8. I have made brawn using half a pig's head (not recently though) perhaps adding a pig's trotter when cooking the meat will help with the gelatine. As Nellymary said it's the bones that get the gelatine happening, or more chicken wings/feet.

  9. This brings back good memories. My dad used to make brawn with the Christmas turkey leftovers. After boiling the carcass for a good while, he'd pick off all the meat and return to the broth, maybe with salt and pepper but nothing else. It would set in a big round bowl and it was delicious.

  10. Rhonda, how well I remember helping my grandmother make brawn. She made hers from pig's cheek,knuckle of veal and gravy beef. In the 1950's it was quite common to see the pig's head sitting in the butcher shop window. Her brawn was delicious!
    Cheers! Karen near Gympie.

  11. you NEVER cease to amaze me, RJ!! I still dream about a terrine eaten in Paris ages ago. You make me realize I should do less dreaming and more doing!

  12. Come on Rhonda, admit it. You wrote this post so you'd have an excuse to use the word 'charcuterie'. Am I right?

  13. My grandmother use to make brawn and though I've tried the commercially made stuff it doesn't even come close to grannies recipe. (Now theres a surprise) I haven't tasted good brawn since I was child; so I guess thats another thing on my to-do list. I'd forgotten all about it. Thanks for the post.

  14. Dear Green Mama,

    Would I do such a thing?

    Yours in charcuterie,
    Rhonda Jean

  15. I am learning so much new things such as this -- thank you.. I'll be back.. hugs

  16. Looks delicious! I've been craving for a while now what Mum made years and years ago - pressed pickled ox tongue.
    I remember it was an ordeal making it (boiling the ox tongues, and then peeling them); and pressing in bowel or terrine with a weight (usually a dinner plate with a couple of tins of fruit on top!) in the fridge overnight.
    I haven't had it years and years, but your post today reminded me. I'm not sure my fiance would enjoy it though... most people my age tend to struggle with offal.

  17. I remember an aunty making brawn when I was a child ( 40+ years ago) and she used to put it in a bowl and place it under the leg of her heavy oak dining table overnight.
    I am having a go at making the cheese out of the Little House Cookbook that Laura Ingalls mother made before you could get modern cheese presses
    Karen - NZ

  18. Hello Rhonda
    The brawn looks delicious. Is it the same as the "potted meat" that the Famous Five and Secret Seven (Enid Blyton) used to take on picnics?? Yum.
    I used to make it out of boiling the lamb bones and the little meat left on them after a roast. The finer you cut the meat, the better it sticks together. Press it into little ramekins and put something heavy on top until it all sticks together. I can't wait to try it again. Yours with the vegetables looks yummy and helps it go further. Brilliant!!!

  19. I have been around a long time too, I don't have my own blog, but love to browse and read yours and others.
    Finally became a follower, as I love to knit dishcloths, though I use them for laundry etc., too.
    I am down south in Vic., love your brawn recipe, had forgotten about such food!
    Congrats on becoming grandparents, I am an Oma myself and it is so much fun!

  20. My mum often BOUGHT brawn when I was a child and I hated it more than brussel sprouts! For some reason yours looks much more inviting than the store stuff, I wonder if it is because it has less gelatine and more MEAT or just because I'm older!!!

  21. Lizzy, I hope Rhonda Jean won't mind me jumping in, but no, potted meat and brawn are not the same.
    Potted meat is more like a rough pate, in that there is no gelatine involved, which is then sealed with a layer of fat (usually melted butter nowadays).
    I've made brawn with pigs head and it is delicious. I also skimmed the fat off, and so ended up with a large bowl of lard for cooking as a by-product. Did you know lard is a less saturated fat than butter?
    I would add a split pigs trotter to your recipe to ensure it sets well.
    We ate the last of our brawn fried with greens and mashed potato. It falls apart as the gelatine melts, but it was very tasty!

  22. My mother used to love this. She called it "souse" or "pig's souse" and it was made from scraps after the butchering of a hog. When it was sliced it had all those funny shapes within it, as a child I was fascinated with it and loved to look at it, but I didn't like to eat it for some reason or other. I'm sure it was good.

  23. This post was interesting to me because I didn't know that bones produced a natural gelatin. I often times make a soup from my leftover turkey frame and sometimes it will gelatize (is that a word:)) overnight. I was concerned that it was fat causing it but was surprised because I always remove a lot of the fat before making the soup. Thanks to this post I now know it's just gelatin! It makes more sense.

  24. I have had great success using veal bones to help these sort of dishes set. I found out by accident as I refused to waste anything from a side I had bought. So I poached the ribs and everything. The meat was picked off and seasones and a little of the stock mixed through. It went into a tin with foil and a brick on top. My uncles thought it was terrific.

  25. My family ran a slaughterhouse when I was small and we sawed the top of the hog's head off to remove the brains (to sell) and then sold the heads to people so they could make souse. I love it with crackers and some vinegar poured over it. We also call it head cheese as you said. Yum!!

  26. hi Rhonda,

    If it is the natural gelatine you are after.....I must ask, have you ever tried to make stock out of chickens feet? It makes the most delicious stock that literally sets like a jelly. The chicken feet are very cheap - Once I strain off the stock, I mix the left over feet and veg with rice and feed it to my dogs for a few meals - so we all score!

    You can't make better stock. I found the recipe here:

    If you are not too squeamish, give it a try, you will never make chicken stock any other way again!

  27. My great grandmother loved what she called "souse" and even as a girl I remember them making it after we had the "hog killings."

  28. Oh Rhonda, I laughted because I can just imagine my partners reaction: "It looks like dog food!"

    If I ever make Hog Cheese I'll have to remember to make him take his first mouthful with his eyes closed... because I just know it will be delicious!

  29. You mentioned "head cheese" and immediatly my lip curled up! Ew. But I work in a deli and we have the really processed stuff...not at all homemade. If I had some of your's or some that someone actually made, it might change my mind. But all I can think of is the stuff we sell in the deli. Ew. Lol :)
    Your's does look much prettier than our's!

  30. Wow! This is exactly what I was looking for. My grandmother used to make this but I didn't know what it was called. I wanted to try to make it myself but obviously couldn't since I didn't know the name of it.



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