Happy Yorkshire Day fellow food lovers!
I’m not entirely sure how or when this day began or even why, but I’m willing to embrace anything if it gives me the excuse to tuck into a plate of local produce. Last week I received a parcel of dairy-related goodies from the excellent team at Wensleydale Creamery – prompting my search for a traditional Yorkshire recipe using cheese.
Without losing all reason and ending up in a world of cheese and chive Yorkshire puddings, the options are rather limited. I love experimenting with flavours as much as the next girl, but sometimes you can’t beat the basic elements of life – cheese, bread and – of course – beer. Plus, I’m married to a Welshman. Can you see where this is going?
Welsh Rabbit or Rarebit?
There is a lot of talk on the internet about the history of Welsh Rarebit, some of which I am convinced is more apocryphal than fact. Was the name originally rabbit, but changed to rarebit as an affectation by later chefs? Is Welsh Rabbit actually an English joke made at the expense of Welsh cooks?
We do know that toasted bread and cheese has been eaten all over the British Isles since the 1500’s. It was a popular supper dish in Wales, named ‘caws pobi’ (meaning baked cheese). Recipe writer Hannah Glasse mentions Welsh Rabbit in her 1747 cookery book, along with instructions for both Scottish Rabbit and English Rabbit.
Why Beer and Cheese?
I am most curious as to how beer became a key ingredient. I didn’t really find an answer during my research. In medieval Britain, ale played an important role in the diet of many ordinary families, with the domestic housewife responsible for brewing. Before the introduction of hops, ale was drunk ‘fresh’ and had a very short lifespan. As many of our most traditional dishes are as much about preventing waste as they are about flavour, it seems to make sense that we would start looking for ways to make use of the ale in our cooking. This brings me to an important point. When choosing a beer for your rarebit, avoid the highly fashionable but overly hoppy IPA. This can leave a bitter aftertaste that spoils the whole dish. I much prefer the sweetness that comes from a classic brown beer.
A Yorkshire Day Rarebit
So what makes this a Yorkshire rather than Welsh rarebit? The use of Yorkshire ingredients obviously! Ah heck, I don’t mind admitting that this is all rather tenuous. It is also delicious and, as I have already identified, Welsh Rarebit isn’t necessarily all that Welsh anyway. Indeed, my Welsh husband only ever ate cheese on toast as a child, though he wasn’t going to turn his nose up at the offer of rarebit for supper.
- 50g of Yorkshire butter from Wensleydale Creamery
- 50g of plain white flour
- 250ml New Zealand Brown Ale from Brew York
- 2 teaspoons of English mustard
- A good dash of Worcestershire Sauce
- 250g Extra Mature Yorkshire Cheddar from Wensleydale Creamery
- 4 thick slices of Pan au Levain from Haxby Bakehouse
Make a roux – melt the butter in a saucepan and blend in the flour. Keep stirring for a couple of minutes over a low heat to cook out the flour.
Pour in the Brew York brown ale, a little at a time. You are aiming to make a thick, tawny coloured sauce without any lumps. Once you are happy with the consistency, add the mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Finally, tip in the cheese and beat carefully with a wooden spoon.
Leave the sauce to cool slightly. In the meantime, toast the slices of pan au levain on one side.
Turn over the toasted bread and spread the unctuous, heavenly cheese sauce over the top of each slice. You will need to use a spoon. Pop the rarebit back under the grill and leave until bubbling and slightly caught on top. Enjoy.
A word of warning – serve with a fish slice as the result is one of the hottest substances known to man, second only to McDonalds apple pie filling.