Gio Thu Vietnamese Head Cheese

gio thu head cheese

Continuing our series about traditional Vietnamese Tet food is gio thu, or head cheese. This is not a cheese at all, but a cold cut made from a pig’s head but can also be made with calf or sheep. Congealed together by the natural gelatin of the head organs, gio thu is served as a cold cut and also luncheon meat. During the Tet celebration it is often served as a charcuterie to be dipped in soy sauce and chili peppers.

Various forms of head cheese can be found all over the world. In Vietnam, the gio thu is made with pretty much anything you can find on a pigs head.. including the ears, snout, cheek, and tongue. You can also use the ham hock as well since it contains mostly skin and a small bit of pork meat if you can’t find cheek.  This is combined with black fungus, fish sauce, garlic and shallots, and black peppercorns and congealed to a chewy and crunchy goodness.

The pig is a treasured animal in Vietnamese culture and back in the day, pigs were commonly used as dowry gifts. Now whole roasted pigs are often served at engagement ceremonies and other celebrations. No doubt when pigs are slaughtered for the feast of Tet, no part of the pig is wasted.  This is my mom’s recipe for gio thu.

Gio Thu Vietnamese Head Cheese
Printable Recipe

  • 2 pig ears
  • 2 pig tongue
  • 1 snout or cheek
  • 2 ham hock (optional if wanting slightly more meaty texture-bones discarded)
  • 2.5 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 ts sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 2 tbs coarsely cracked peppercorns
  • 1 cup black fungus (whole woodear mushrooms) soaked for about 1/2 hr and drained
  • cooking oil
  • 2-3 empty medium sized round tin cans or cardboard cans and plastic sandwich bags

Rinse the ears, tongue, snout and hamhock and boil in a large pot for about 45 minutes or until the pig ears are soft–but not too soft.  A good way to check is that you can pierce the skin of the pig ears with your finger nails.  Drain and soak in a cold water bath until cool. This keeps the skin of the pork from turning dark and cools it down as well.

gio thu head cheese

Slice the pig ears thinly, about 1/4 inch wide. The tongue may have a thin white layer on top. Shave off this layer with a knife or peeler and slice the tongue similarly. Do the same with the snout–there maybe sections of the snout that has hair still on so you can discard that.  Remove the bone from the hamhock and also cut in small pieces.

In a large nonstick wok or pan, heat a few tablespoons of cooking oil and add the shallots and garlic. Saute until it becomes aromatic and then add the pig ears, snout, tongue, and hamhock.  Add the cracked peppercorns, sugar, and fish sauce and fungus. Continue to saute and stir and you will notice the liquid from meats turning viscous sticky, about 10 minutes or so.

gio thu head cheese

Now prepare your containers (medium sized tin cans or those cheese puff cans also works). Place sandwich bags inside the empty cans and fill the containers–you really want to pack it in and fill it as much as you can–the head cheese should be very tightly packed and full. We used a ziplock bag above, but it’s better to use a regular one so you can tie the end with a rubber band.  Seal the bag and place something heavy on top and store in the fridge overnight.  The gio thu will set and you’ll have a lovely well composed head cheese!

Cooks note: Sometime a bit of alcohol such as vodka infused with cinnamon, star anise, coriander, fennel is added to the seasoning which we did not use.

gio thu head cheese  

Savory and full of textural surprises from the crunch of the pig ears to the tender and chewy portions of the snout and meaty portions of the tongue and hamhock. Cut into small bite size pieces and dip in soy sauce with crushed chili peppers. Goes great with some nem chua (cured/fermented pork)be thui (roast veal), and lots of cold beer to celebrate the Tet feast.
This is one dish where it’s better to just eat and not ask questions…
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36 Responses to “Gio Thu Vietnamese Head Cheese”

  1. 1

    KennyT — February 3, 2010 @ 10:02 am

    I love head cheese, and the one you made looks soooooooooooooo delicious!

  2. 2

    Ravenous Couple — February 3, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

    KennyT: glad you're not grossed out by gio thu/head cheese!

  3. 3

    Sunflower — February 3, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

    I love head's meat. You've have made this humble meat looks delicious.
    Is there any reason why you are not using pig's cheek?

  4. 4

    Ravenous Couple — February 3, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

    Sunflower: Thanks for mentioning that omission–we've edited it. If you can find a whole pig's head from your butcher, you can definitely use the entire thing–otherwise, just buy the individual organs. We've included ham hock only if you want to supplement the head cheese.

  5. 5

    Jessica@Foodmayhem — February 3, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

    I happen to love all those parts, especially pig ears, but I know some people get squeamish about the way it looks. This is an amazing way to prepare and present because it's so beautiful…like granite.

  6. 6

    cookingpractice — February 3, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

    Yummy!!! I haven't eaten this for years! :(

  7. 7

    Gastronomer — February 3, 2010 @ 8:03 pm

    My gramps used to make this every year! Mmmm, head cheese. The pieces with peppercorns always made with wince, which is funny considering the nasty bits in this loaf.

  8. 8

    Krissy @ The Food Addicts — February 3, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

    you guys really make impressive stuff! stuff i dont even eat on a normal basis! do you guys want to nhau? lol jk.

  9. 9

    Ravenous Couple — February 3, 2010 @ 9:51 pm

    Krissy: Yeah, lets nhau! who's bringing the alcohol? ;)

  10. 10

    Tuty — February 4, 2010 @ 12:19 am

    Never tasted any type of headcheese, but I like pig ears a lot. The crunchy cartilage is a fun textural experience for me.

  11. 11

    my spatula — February 4, 2010 @ 1:34 am

    this looks incredible! it's far too intimidating for me…kudos to you both! looking forward to tet.

  12. 12

    Bonnibella — February 4, 2010 @ 1:40 am

    I'm truly amazed at the Vietnamese dishes you guys are able to make at home. I love head cheese and it's very hard to find a decent one even in San Jose.

    I may have to spent a day trying this, maybe in time for Spring Festival!

  13. 13

    Ravenous Couple — February 4, 2010 @ 2:13 am

    tuty: if you like pig ears, you'll love gio thu/head cheese!

    giao: nothing is beyond your talents!

    bonnibella: definitely let us know how gio thu goes if you make it for Tet!

  14. 14

    Velva — February 4, 2010 @ 3:23 am

    Wow! What an interesting post. I learned a lot today reading your post about head cheese. Thanks for sharing.

  15. 15

    5 Star Foodie — February 4, 2010 @ 4:57 am

    I've never tried head cheese before, very neat! I will definitely try it if I ever have a chance.

  16. 16

    Linda — February 4, 2010 @ 8:01 am

    awwwww this makes me homesick! every tet my parents would make 15+ to give to family. My mom would be the one cooking and my dad would be the one hand wrapping with just foil and string!…i can still remember how the house smelled =)

  17. 17

    noobcook — February 4, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

    I really learn a lot about Vietnamese food from your blog hehe

  18. 18

    yutjangsah — February 4, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

    This is some hard core stuff kids. I'd love to shove that slice of head cheese between some bread and crunch away no questions asked@!

  19. 19

    drstel — February 4, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

    almost fainted from desire!
    thanks for putting up this recipe, i love slices of this in banh mi.
    you've got so many awesome recipes i can't wait to try.

  20. 20

    Fuji Mama — February 5, 2010 @ 1:22 am

    I LOVE head cheese and the Vietnamese version looks DELICIOUS!

  21. 21

    Ravenous Couple — February 5, 2010 @ 1:31 am

    Velva and Anne: Thanks, we always like to put a little culture along with the food.

    Linda: Your mom and dad must have made quite a team making gio thu..hopefully for Tet you can share it again with them.

    Yutyansuh and drstel: yup, some some people also slice this really thin and put it in banh mi…we have some left and should do that!

    Rachel: Thanks!

  22. 22

    Nutrition to Kitchen — February 5, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

    You guys are like the new Vietnamese cooking superstars, seriously. If I had that much access to Vietnamese foods, I would not be making this – don't know how you do it! :) Major props to you!

  23. 23

    pigpigscorner — February 5, 2010 @ 10:22 pm

    I've never tried this before, looks really good!

  24. 24

    Marie — February 14, 2010 @ 4:13 am

    I've never had head cheese (Vietnamese or otherwise), but lately I've been wanting to try pig ears and such. Another specialty to jot down on the must-try list!

  25. 25

    Ravenous Couple — February 18, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

    nutrition to kitchen: it's always good to learn how to cook to get a better appreciation when we eat…plus, younger generations would be able rediscover Vietnamese foods as well.

    anne: gio thu is really tasty! :)

    Marie: this is hard to find anywhere, but the French places that serve charcuterie would likely have it

  26. 26

    we are never full — February 21, 2010 @ 12:40 am

    d
    r
    o
    o
    l

    anything utilizing pigs ears…i'm there.

  27. 27

    A. Rizzi — February 23, 2010 @ 4:54 am

    nice work! Look exactly like what I see sold over here. They also sell this HUGE rounds as well. Kind of similar to what I had last night: 'thit dong', a northern dish of cold gelatinous pigs part I believe. Have you tried?

  28. 28

    peter — March 5, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

    I made head cheese last year… it's so very good. Might have to order another head in the near future.

  29. 29

    bob — February 25, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

    what about Gio Bi (with the skin) wrapped in foil and banana leaves..I love head cheese and bought this…is it ready to eat or does it need preparation? thanks

    Bob n Berkeley Calif

    bwaks@yahoo.com

  30. 30

    Ravenous Couple — February 25, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

    @bob, it's ready to eat without any further prep. try it alone dipped in spicy soy sauce or in banh mi

  31. 31

    Phuoc'n Delicious — September 6, 2011 @ 10:38 pm

    I love this! I remember having it plenty of times when I was younger and the other day my dad bought some for us to have. My sisters who aren’t adventurous as I am with food didn’t find it appealing but I loved it! The slippery and crunchy textures. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe! It’s so straight forward and easier than I thought!

  32. 32

    Elsie — September 18, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

    Thanks for the post! Yummy! :) I love the look of your head cheese, I will have to try that one day!

  33. 33

    Pork: The Vietnamese Way — November 20, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

    [...] and chả lụa. The má (cheek), mỏ (snout), tai (ears) and lưỡi (tongue) are all used for headcheese. The ham end can be used to make chà bông (pork floss) and the bắp chân (hock) is a favorite [...]

  34. 34

    Tet! In Vietnam? « Hanoi Eats Sarah — January 29, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

    [...] chicken) mixed with mushrooms and then frozen into a lump.  (Find a better explanation and recipe here.) It kind of looks like meat jello.  My American tongue cringed a little at the sight of it, and [...]

  35. 35

    Amy — August 30, 2012 @ 10:06 pm

    I give you so much props for even attempting this. I love eating it, but can’t seem to myself to touch ‘the parts’.

  36. 36

    alena — February 6, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

    1. how long will it last in the refrigerator?
    2. there is two types of ham hock, one is meaty and the second one is less meat, which one should i use?
    thanks

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