Russian Head Cheese (Зельц русский)

Russian Head Cheese (Зельц русский) is a basic head cheese made from pork head meat and beef. What makes Russian head cheese different from others that it was cold smoked after cooking and pressing. Meats were cured with salt and nitrate and then cooked, mixed with spices, stuffed, cooked and smoked.
Lean beef200 g0.44 lb
Pork jowls400 g0.88 lb
Pork head meat400 g0.88 lb
Ingredients per 1000g (1 kg) of meat
Salt28 g5 tsp
Cure #11.0 g1/4 tsp
Black pepper0.6 g1/3 tsp
Allspice0.6 g1/3 tsp
Garlic1.0 g1/2 clove
  1. Cure meat. Cut beef into 1-3/4" (50 mm) chunks, mix with salt and Cure #1, pack firmly in a container, cover with a cloth and refrigerate for 72 hours. The head is usually cured for 4 days in 16° Bé (60° SAL) cure solution with sodium nitrite added. Jowls can be cured in for 4 days in 16° Bé (60° SAL) cure solution with sodium nitrite added. * see the note below.
  2. Cook:
    • pork heads in water at 203° F (95° C) until meat can be separated from bones. This may take from 2-4 hours.
    • blanch jowls in a boiling water (212° F, 100° C) for 5-10 minutes.
    • slow cook (185° F, 85° C) any connective tissue rich meat cuts (if used) until meat separates from bones.
    • cook skins (if used) at 203° F (95° C) until soft.
  3. Spread cooked meats on flat surface for cooling. Remove meat from bones when the cuts have cooled down enough to be handled.
  4. When removing meat from bones try to maintain meat size of about 1 inch (25 mm).
  5. Cut jowls into strips about 4 inch (10 cm) long and 1/4 inch (5 mm) wide.
  6. Grind lean beef and any connective tissue rich meats (skins, hocks - if used) through 1/8" (2-3 mm) grinder plate. Grind the second time. You can use food processor to emulsify lean beef and any connective tissue rich meats, but you need to add a little cold water or finely crushed ice.
  7. Mix all meats with spices.
  8. Stuffing materials: pork stomachs or bladders, beef bungs, large diameter (4 inch) fibrous casings, butcher's twine. Stuff stomachs or bladders loosely and tie or sew the ends with twine.
  9. Poach head cheeses at 185-194° F(85-90° C) for 90-180 min (depending on size) until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 160°F (72°C). Prick with a needle any pieces that have swum up to the surface to allow air to escape. Clear liquid should be observed when fully cooked head cheese is pricked with a needle.
  10. Spread head cheeses on a flat surface at 2-6° C (35-43° F) and let the steam out. Then flatten them with a weighted board at 37-40° F (3-4° C). Leave them undisturbed for 10-12 hours. They are done when inside temperature reaches 50-53° F (10-12° C). Do not flatten head cheese stuffed in sausage casing.
  11. Insert stomachs or bladders for 1-2 minutes into boiling water to remove grease from the surface. (Scald the casings with hot water).
  12. Apply cold smoke (68-77° F, 20-25° C) for 6-12 hours. You may skip this time consuming step, however, traditionally made head cheese was smoked.
  13. Keep refrigerated.

*16° Bé (60° SAL) cure solution is made by mixing 1.32 lb (598 g) salt, 4.2 oz (120 g) cure #1 and one gallon of water.

Raw meat can be trimmed away from the head, however, a lot of meat will be wasted, so the established procedure is to cook the head and then remove meat with hands. If the head is not cured the head meat will be not pink but grey after cooking.

Pork heads are split into halves and washed before processing. The brain is discarded.

Recipe often refers to connective tissue rich meat cuts. They contain a lot of collagen which will form a natural gelatin that will bind meats. Pork jowls contain a lot of connective tissue and this is why they are included in this recipe. Other collagen rich meats are pork skins, hocks and picnic (front leg).

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