Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day 170 - Eating Headcheese

I have never eaten headcheese. In fact, I never had any intention to eat this sandwich meat comprised of the flesh of a pig head, muscles from pig feet and heart, and a natural adhesive gelatin that forms when boiling the pig skull to remove the meat. I need not explain further after that list of ingredients, but I found the idea of eating a rubbery mix of pig head flesh unappealing the point that the very idea of   doing so made me cringe. Of course, underneath my surface response to the food, I knew eating headcheese wasn't much different than eating any other kind of meat, I still struggled to come to terms with the idea of making headcheese a part of any meal. That stated, in a year of new experiences I have found myself trying some unique foods that I would have been unlikely to eat at any other point in my life, and on the Tasty Tuesday before Halloween, I figured what better food to eat than the skull meat of an animal.

As a result, I contacted a few butchers, delis, and grocery stores today to track down a few sources of headcheese. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any stores that sold the food after making a half of a dozen calls, which left me wondering if my "I have never..." plans for the day would even be possible. As I weighed my alternative options if my original plans fell, I thought about the unexpected degree of difficulty I was facing in my effort to find headcheese. Although it the degree of difficulty I had in tracking down the food was a bit surprising at first, a brief review of the food's sources and its standing unpopularity in the United States made it obvious why most of the establishments in an around Madison didn't carry headcheese. Regardless, I knew a city the size of Madison had to have one store that carried the food, which pushed me to continue in my search.

The Tasty Tuesday before Halloween?
...Time for some headcheese!
Eventually, my efforts paid off when a local grocer informed me they carried one brand of headcheese at one of their four locations around Madison. Relieved I had final track down a source of the food at the center of my "I have never..." event for the day, I drove to the location immediately after my workday and searched the meat department for a package of headcheese. After walking through the aisle briefly, I found myself standing before a small section of "specialty" meats including organs, feet, and other random parts of animals deemed fit for consumption. At the very top of the section in three narrow rows sat the packages of headcheese the grocery employee had mentioned to me earlier in the day. I didn't let myself hesitate even for a moment when my eyes caught glimpse of the small package of pink and white marbled meat, knowing it may very well deter me from following through with my "I have never..." objective. Minutes later, I was walking out of the store with a single package of headcheese, ready to taste the food for the very first time.

The first bite
Upon arriving home, I promptly began preparing a plate with bread and a few slices of the headcheese. As I pulled a few slices of the meat from the wrapper, the rubbery and incredibly greasy texture of the headcheese immediately made me question my choice of "I have never..." event for the day. Despite my initial hesitation, I continued with my task until I had three slices of headcheese laid evenly between two pieces of bread. Watching my actions warily, Rachael reacted with a simple question. "Aren't you going to put something on it?" she said staring at the sandwich. In response, I glanced at the sandwich on the plate resting on the counter in front of me and gave her the only answer I could, "Well, it's about gaining the full experience, and I guess the best way to do it is to eat it plain..."

A little mayo for flavor
Rachael shuddered in response to my reasoning, but the reaction did little to deter me from proceeding to the dining room and taking a seat at the table. I was beyond the point of return in my first experience with headcheese, and the only thing left to do was to sink my teeth into the mix of bread, head flesh, and gelatin. As a result, I lifted the sandwich from the table, gave it one last look, and took my first bite of headcheese. As my teeth passed through the headcheese, the meat's rubbery texture immediately made its presence known. The feeling was enough to make my hesitate for a brief moment before I reluctantly squeezed my jaw closed around the sandwich meat. The meat offered a slight resistance as I bit down, eventually breaking free with a slight snapping sensation similar to that of an old gummy candy. Regardless, I kept pressing on and did my best to focus on the other elements of the headcheese. While the texture left a lot to be desired, I was surprised to find that the taste of the sandwich wasn't all that bad. In fact, it tasted very similar to a peppered bologna, which made it a little easier for me to continue with my meal. It wasn't good by any means, but it was good enough to eat.

Better with mayo and cheese...
After taking a few more bites of the headcheese, I decided it was time to add a little more flavor to the sandwich so I could make it through to the end of my experience. In turn, I grabbed some mayonnaise from the kitchen and returned to my plate with a little reservation. After testing the taste of the mayonnaise on the headcheese with a small sample bite of the mixture, I decided spreading the condiment across the sandwich would help me finish the rest of the meal. With the few bites of headcheese I had taken minutes earlier already starting to rest heavy in my stomach, I quickly spread a light coating of mayonnaise over the sandwich and set back to work on the headcheese. Unfortunately, I still found the sandwich lacking after one more bite, which sent me back to the kitchen in search of something additional to give the otherwise limited flavor profile a boost. Ultimately, a little digging through the refrigerator resulted in my locating a single slice of sharp cheddar, which seemed the perfect complement to the pork-based meat. Hopeful the cheddar would be the solution to making the remaining portion of my first experience with headcheese a little more enjoyable, I returned to the dining room and threw the piece of cheese on the half eaten sandwich, ready to take on the remaining portion of the meal.

...Until you bite into a chunk of skull
Taking the first bite of my fully built sandwich, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the cheddar cheese had actually made the sandwich noticeably more delicious. So much so that I told Rachael it would be something I could eat again assuming I could overcome my disgust of the food's composition. I contently nibbled away at the sandwich as Rachael and I continued talking between my bites of the remaining headcheese. I was making good progress on completing my objective for the day until I felt a small, hard object roll across my teeth as I took one of the last bites in the sandwich. In response, I paused and fished the object from my mouth, which revealed a small piece of bone pinched between my fingers.

Pushing through to the end!
Disgusted, I slowly lifted my hand in front of my face to get a better look at the small white chunk of bone that had been a part of the headcheese moments earlier. The discovery forced me back in my chair and caused me to pause before the remaining piece of sandwich on my plate. After a few moments of hesitation, I gave the rest of the headcheese a once over to ensure no more unpleasant surprises remained in the final portion of the sandwich. Confident I was in the clear, I hurriedly forced down the rest of the meal and stood up from the table. In the face of a series of unforeseen challenges I had taken on my first experience with headcheese and emerged roughly unscathed; lest the small degree of psychological trauma from clamping down on a piece of pig skull, of course.

Following tonight's "I have never..." event, I can honestly say my first experience with headcheese was roughly what I expected. While the texture of the meat and the surprise nugget I found during my meal were somewhat unexpected, the basic flavor and plentiful undesirable characteristics of the headcheese weren't a surprise. It is safe to say headcheese won't become a routine part of my diet after today's "I have never..." event, but at least I can now say I have the experience to justify that decision. At this point it would take something incredible to convince me to try headcheese again, and if that's the only takeaway from this "I have never..." experience, I will gladly take it.

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