Welsh rarebit is a simple but very popular dish of toasted bread covered in a cheese sauce or melted cheese, mixed with mustard, spices or ale, and has been popular since the 1500s under the name of ‘caws pobi’, which is Welsh for toasted cheese.
Nobody’s quite sure of the origin of the name, but it’s generally believed to be a jest at the expense of the early poor of Wales, from the South Wales Valleys, who may largely have subsisted on rabbit and ale (though how this relates back to cheese on toast, I am not sure). The dish was thought to be a staple in the diets of Welsh men and women.
What is Welsh rarebit?
Welsh rarebit is dish made with a savoury sauce of melted cheese and other ingredients that is served hot after being poured over slices of toasted bread. Now a traditional treat found in Welsh restaurants, Welsh rarebit has humble beginnings, like most things, in Wales. Whilst in truth it was probably enjoyed by a large portion of the British nation, the Welsh were seen to have a fondness for the gastronomic delight – cheese on toast.
A Welsh Rarebit legend
A 16th-century tale tells how God asked St Peter to get rid of the Welsh from heaven, as they kept causing a ruckus (there had to be a rugby match on that day!). St Peter marched outside the Pearly Gates and shouted “caws pobi!”, to which all of the Welsh men and women excitedly tumbled out of the gates (like a stampede to the bar at last orders!). The gates were slammed behind them.
Does Welsh rarebit have rabbit in it?
A popular misconception or myth is that many believe that there is rabbit in Welsh rarebit, possibly because the word sounds so similar. The first recorded reference to the dish comes from 1725, where it was called ‘Welsh rabbit’. Historians believe it caught on as a joke. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the English would often give laughably fancy names to food, especially if it was relevant to a region. The name change was probably an attempt to make it a more fitting dish. I personally think it was a language barrier or a strong Welsh accent that gave the dish its name.
National Welsh rarebit day
Every year on the 3rd September is Welsh Rarebit Day. It is the perfect opportunity for Welsh restaurants and food establishments to promote their local menus, and celebrate this national dish.
Easy Welsh rarebit recipe
- 125g mature cheddar, grated
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp beer (preferably stout) or milk
- 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp wholegrain mustard
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 4 thick slices of good quality bread
- Set aside 1 heaped tablespoon of grated cheese. Mix the rest with the egg, beer or milk, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and cayenne.
- Preheat the grill to high and toast the bread on both sides. Spread the cheese mixture on top and then sprinkle on the reserved cheese.
- Grill until the cheese is melted and starting to turn golden brown. Serve immediately.
How will you be celebrating Welsh rarebit day?
I would love to hear if you will be indulging on Welsh rarebit day, your thoughts on the national dish, or your favourite recipes?