“It’s just cheese on toast.”
Let any food writer, that is not Welsh, write a recipe for rarebit and they will somewhere, without fail, denounce it down to being ‘just cheese on toast‘. Well in that case, a Mazda is just a car. A mansion is just a house. And Beyoncé is just a singer.
In the case of rarebit, the saying ‘a rose by another name would still smell as sweet’ does not apply because to call this a rarebit and assume it’s just as good as cheese and toast is incorrect. Is there cheese? Yes. Is there toast? Yes. But is this just cheese on toast?
The DNA of this recipe truly is that you are pimping up some cheese with strong, gutsy flavours to create a thick, vulgar paste that you then dollop on top of bread and grill. And it has to be the grill, otherwise you won’t get that quick char you need on the cheese. If you bake the rarebit, the hot air is slower to bubble the cheese, and it will start to melt and dribble off of the bread, whereas you want that instant, intense heat on top to scald and bubble the cheese.
It’s a very simple and quick affair and to be honest, that’s all it needs to be.
I’ve seen some unfathomable things done to the rarebit which I will never understand, including swapping the beer for wine or stock (gross) and also people making a béchamel style sauce, letting it go cold and then putting it on the toast to melt.
Stop it and stop it now. There’s no need.
True, I have taken my own liberty of sprinkling a little charcoal salt on top of the finished dish (and I use this fantastic Welsh retailer to buy mine) but this is by no means a tradition nor is it a necessity. You could just add a little more salt to the cheese mixture and it will still taste phenomenal.
The beer used in the recipe can, if I’m honest, just be your favourite beer but I’d like to steer you in a good direction, if I may. For this recipe, as there are some punchy flavour combinations what with the hot mustard and the Worcestershire sauce, it’s important that the beer not only holds it own against these but also introduces it’s own note.
A malty ale would be my first instinct (and of course the Welsh brewed ‘Cwtch’ by Tiny Rebel is a great choice) because even though it has strong, fruity flavours it still has a mellow roundness to it that is not too offensive. But if you feel you want a stronger punch, I’d recommend a sweet and rich stout, like this one here by the Glamorgan Brewing Company but be prepared for the colour to be slightly darker in hue.
I so badly want to use Caerphilly cheese for this, and have done so with great results, but the cheese of the town where I spent many of my teen years is just a little too sweet and gritty for this. I want the cheese to be able to melt under the heat of the grill but also still retain it’s integrity to withstand the heat and create blistered pockets, and unfortunately Caerphilly cheese is just a little too grainy for that. So you need something a bit sturdy so lucky for us, a mature cheddar does the job perfectly fine – but get an extra mature cheddar, if you can.
There was a pub-dad joke circulating about the Welsh and melted cheese centuries ago, where apparently God was very weary about the amount of Welsh people there were in Heaven, so he asked the Gatekeeper of Heaven to announce that there was ‘caws pobi’ (which translates to ‘baked cheese’) outside of the gates.
Imagine the onslaught of Welsh folk who ran out of heaven just for that gloopy cheese; now imagine me as one of them. Because I would have been.
Also, I want to address something that I had no intention of addressing until I started writing this. I’ve noticed that argument of pronunciation – whether it be rarebit vs. rabbit – seems to be a point of discussion in every online recipe.
These writers aren’t Welsh.
There may be lore from the 17th century that it was called rabbit due to some nonsense about the Welsh being too poor to eat rabbit, so we would make cheese and toast and call it rabbit. But, in every instance I hear about it being called rabbit, it’s come from an ancient English person who was using the term to make fun of the Welsh.
So you (the English) decided to call it that. We didn’t.
I have never in my 32 years of being a Welsh man from the Welsh valleys, heard anybody call this rabbit.
Serves 1 – 2
20g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
A pinch of salt
100g mature cheddar cheese – grated
2 tablespoons beer – preferably Welsh like Tiny Rebel
2 slices of thick, fudgy bread – like a sourdough
1 teaspoon charcoal salt – optional
- In a bowl, cream together the butter, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and salt to create a smooth paste.
- Add the cheese and beer and gently stir to combine. It will look like you’ve made a mistake because it will feel like weird scrambled eggs or a split custard, but this is spot on. Don’t worry.
- Slice your bread, heat a grill and once hot, toast the bread on one side only until they are crisp and golden.
- Take the toast, flip them over, and then spoon the cheese mixture across the un-toasted side of the bread.
- Put the toast back under the grill for 1 – 2 minutes until the cheese is soft, melting but also charred and blistered in spots.
- Sprinkle the cheese with a little charcoal salt, if using, and serve.