Cheesy (adj) – something which is over-sentimental, a bit naff, a bit overly romanticised or unsophisticated. Bad jokes are often cheesy, most of the TV programs from the 1980s, Gangnam Style, plastic models of the Queen in a Snowdome currently being sold outside Windsor Castle – all very cheesy.
Welsh Rarebit is a huge favourite in the UK, and is a great example of British food where the name gives you no idea what you are about to eat. But that, my friends, is all part of the fun.
You need to know that although we now call it a rarebit, (and rarebit as a word doesn’t exist anywhere else) it was originally called ‘Welsh Rabbit’. Although it had nothing to do with rabbit, and might not have been Welsh. Confusing? A little, maybe.
Because Welsh rarebit is in fact a slightly odd name for something that is basically… cheese on toast. A very, very superior example of cheese on toast.
So why this strange name? Well, the story is that we English, rudely, named it ‘Welsh’ to mean inferior or put more plainly “not as good as the other rarebit”. (Okay, I admit we do have a slight tradition of being rude about the Welsh, it is true, but believe me, you should hear what they call us.) Anyway, at some point before 1725, English landowners living on the border with Wales, used Welsh workers on their farms, but wouldn’t allow them to eat fresh meat; not even the wild and plentiful rabbit. And so the Welsh used cheese instead.
It’s a good story, even if it’s not absolutely proven. But we can’t let the Welsh take all the credit; according to Hannah Glasse in her book The Art of Cookery (1747) we English apparently also had TWO versions of our own. And WE soaked the bread in wine, put cheese on top, left it at the edge of the fire and then, when it was melting, dipped it in more wine… and honestly? Right now, in the middle of a cold and alcohol-free week, it all sounds like something very close to cheesy, toasty, wine-flavoured perfection.
Nowadays however, we tend just to add beer (often stout or Guinness), rather than all that wine, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. So yes, all in all, it is cheese on toast. But it is also a wonderful, wonderful thing. And it is just the right kind of cheesy.
W E L S H R A R E B I T
I N G R E D I E N T S
- 20g butter
- 20g flour
- 2 tbsp milk
- 2 tbsp beer
- 1 tbsp English mustard
- Black or cayenne pepper
- Worcestershire sauce
- 175-225g finely grated strong cheddar, double Gloucester or similar
- 2 large or 4 small slices good bread (sourdough, good granary)
M E T H O D
- Heat butter in saucepan. Add flour and mix well.
- Add the milk and beer and stir well until the mixture forms a thick sauce.
- Add mustard, pepper and salt, then stir in cheese. Allow to sit for a few minutes to allow the cheese to begin to melt.
- Meanwhile toast one side of the bread under the grill until golden.
- Turn the bread and spread the cheese mixture evenly over the uncooked side and pop back in under the grill until golden and bubbling
© 2016 Kayte & Nicer Kate – authors assert moral rights