Q. I was at an event recently where I was served something called “head cheese”. Is this really a type of cheese? — B. Lee
A. Dear B.L.: Perhaps you avoided tasting the head cheese? If so, I’m sure you did so politely. Had you tasted this item, though, it would likely have been clear that cheese it was not.
Head cheese is composed of the meaty bits from the head of a cow, calf or pig. It is seasoned and cooked and then gelatinized, either with gelatin or using the natural gelatin that comes from cooking down the cuts of meat and bony parts (skull). Then, it is cooled so that it firms up before being sliced and served as you would sausage or type of lunch meat. Or, consider it as a type of terrine with aspic.
If the meaty bits (and generally head cheese doesn’t include the brain or eyes, but might include the tongue or even feet) are pickled, that is called “souse.”
Many cuisines offer their versions of head cheese. You may examine an interesting list of these on Wikipedia. (My favorite,which I am practicing to say, is the French, “fromage de tête,” or “cheese of head.”)