Cheese

Welsh Rarebit: A New Way to Eat Cheese on Toast

October 30, 2017

The Scots have haggis, the Irish have stew, and the Welsh? The Welsh have rarebit: a melty, lashingly-sharp cheese toast that puts all other cheese toasts to shame.

According to Wikipedia, the Holy Grail of all reliable information and last-minute book reports, Welsh rarebit was originally spelled Welsh rabbit. Though there's no rabbit even remotely involved in this dish, some speculate that the name could have come about as a sort of cruel joke implying that the Welsh were too poor to afford even the cheapest of meats—as well as a nod to the country's love of cheese.

This cheesy toast definitely requires a knife and fork. Photo by Rocky Luten

Regardless of its provenance, Welsh rarebit is a dish that any country should be happy to claim. Essentially a jazzed-up version of cheesy, toasty bread, there are many variations of the classic: some involve bechamel drizzled over toast, while others feature bread coated with a thick, cheesy paste and broiled until golden; some recipes call for Gloucestershire or Caerphilly, a Welsh cheese, while others incorporate Parmesan; some use milk to thin out the cheese sauce, while many opt for traditional stout.

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When developing the recipe, I decided to riff off of the first Welsh rarebit I ever ate, at nose-to-tail pioneer Fergus Henderson’s restaurant St. John’s in the Clerkenwell neighborhood in London. St. John's menu changes daily, but there are two dishes which never leave the menu: Roasted Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad and, you guessed it, Welsh rarebit. Because in the words of Henderson himself: "Who doesn't love cheesy toast?"

Of course, this being a Fergus Henderson recipe, it bears no resemblance to any cheesy toast you've ever had before. It is bracingly savory; so umami-heavy (courtesy of the Worcestershire sauce and sharp cheddar) that instead of soothing you, it wakes up all your tastebuds. The initial salty hit is offset by the rich creaminess of stout, and the whole thing stays perked-up thanks to mustard powder and cayenne pepper. Together, the ingredients leave you going back again and again, each time surprised by how intense the flavor is.

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Top Comment:
“I think my mom gave my sister and I a very strong love of sharp yummy cheese making welsh rabbit in sunday nites for suppa!! She did not make it fussy, threw an amazing cheese sauce on top of saltines, and THEN a nice plop of apple jelly into the middle...MOG !! My mum was a great cook in the 60s and 70s.”
— Laura
Comment

This is not cheesy toast for the faint of heart. It is for the die-hard cheese lovers, those who can never quite satiate their savory craving. Perhaps this is why Henderson recommends serving it alongside a glass of rich, sweet port (though I find that it pairs just as well with red wine or some more stout).

Pro tip: If cut into quarters or sixths, Welsh rarebit could make an excellent hors d’oeuvre or first course for a casual dinner party.

Have you tried Welsh rarebit? Or are you more of a mild cheese-toast lover? Tell us below!

10 Comments

Margaret R. November 2, 2017
My mom made this quite often for my Irish/English dad. This recipe looks so yummy. Will definitely try. Thanks
 
Pat E. October 31, 2017
Not traditional but good sliced tomatoes along side are a “must” in our family.
 
susan October 31, 2017
Very much like my mom used to make it but she served it open face on toast, smothered in that rich sauce but hiding bacon beneath... so good!!
 
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Catherine L. October 31, 2017
I bet the smokiness of the bacon would pair very well with the rarebit!
 
Laura October 30, 2017
I think my mom gave my sister and I a very strong love of sharp yummy cheese making welsh rabbit in sunday nites for suppa!! She did not make it fussy, threw an amazing cheese sauce on top of saltines, and THEN a nice plop of apple jelly into the middle...MOG !! My mum was a great cook in the 60s and 70s.
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. October 31, 2017
Ooh love the idea of adding a sweet element into the mix, like apple jelly. Would really balance out the intense savoriness of all that Worcestershire and cheese!
 
Michael C. October 30, 2017
How do you approach an angry Welsh cheese?<br /><br />Caerphilly...
 
susan October 31, 2017
Ha!
 
AntoniaJames October 30, 2017
When I was growing up, sharp cheddar and Worcestershire in rarebit were non-negotiable. In fact, I didn't realize that anyone made it any other way (it's otherwise so flat . . . . you get a slight hit of acid as well as all the anchovy umami with Worcestershire, whose first two ingredients are barley malt vinegar and spirits vinegar . . . the third ingredient, molasses, also doesn't hurt!). ;o)
 
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Catherine L. October 31, 2017
The Worcestershire truly makes it! Agree that it's non-negotiable in my book :)