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Many people know Welsh Rarebit as posh cheese on toast. Although it does share its key ingredient, cheese, there is a vast difference which makes this regular suppertime snack into a rich and indulgent light dinner. Despite its name, it has always been widely enjoyed all over the UK for centuries and adapted with trends over time.

Welsh Rarebit is a thick cheese sauce, flavoured with a slight touch of ale & mustard grilled onto a thick slice of toasted bread. Worcestershire sauce is now a common addition to the recipe along with many other variations enjoyed today.

Keep reading to discover the origins and interesting facts surrounding sleepwalking and Welsh Rarebit. Learn how to make it yourself so you can serve posh cheese on toast to all your friends and family & spot the difference between the household favourite cheese on toast and the rich Welsh Rarebit.

What is Welsh Rarebit?

Welsh Rarebit (or Welsh Rabbit) is ‘melted often seasoned cheese poured over toast or crackers’1 (source: A.A. Siliverstova, et al, Scientific developments: the Eurasian region, 2019) traditionally made by melting butter and cheese, adding ale and pouring over toast. These days it is made with a thicker roux base, cheese, ale, mustard and paprika served on toast and then grilled.

Rarebit is one of the most famous dishes associated with Wales and although it has the word rabbit in its title, it does not contain meat and is completely vegetarian, although some variations do include bacon. Just like the much-loved cheese on toast, Welsh Rarebit is the perfect home comfort food, easy to make, filling and deliciously tasty.

Don’t forget Welsh Rarebit Day annually on the 3rd of September, a great excuse for pumped-up cheese on toast.

Origin of Welsh Rarebit

The origin of Welsh Rarebit is not certain in history, although we have found citations as early as 1725 as ‘Welsh Rabbit’.

Legend tells us that the poor would use cheese as a substitute for expensive meats such as rabbit which they could not afford, hence cooking up Welsh Rabbit, which later became Welsh Rarebit2 (source: Britannica).

There is speculation that the word ‘Welsh’ was used as a derogatory term, meaning stupid or not up to standard, and because there was no meat in the dish gained the name Welsh Rarebit.

Is Welsh Rarebit Just Cheese on Toast?

Everybody thinks of cheese on toast when you say Welsh Rarebit! While there are many similarities including the way the dish looks, the recipes differ with the ingredients and the level of skills involved.

Cheese on toast and Welsh Rarebit are not the same. Cheese on toast is made from lightly buttered toast topped with grated or sliced cheese whereas Welsh Rarebit uses a Bechamel sauce made from flour and butter which is much richer and creamier. The sauce may also include paprika, Worcester sauce, and sometimes even ale for flavour.

While cheese on toast is usually made with your standard sliced bread, Rarebit is often served on chunky loaf making it more of a light meal than a bedtime snack.

Both are grilled and served hot however you might need a knife and fork for the luxurious Welsh Rarebit.

Left: Welsh Rarebit, Right: Cheese on Toast

What is in Welsh Rarebit?

To make Traditional Welsh Rarebit you just need a few basic store cupboard ingredients and around 15 minutes of your time. Here are the things you need to get started on creating this cheesy dish.

  • Unsalted Butter – This helps with its rich flavour and makes the roux at the start of the recipe
  • Plain Flour – This is used to create your roux, which is the base for your cheesy sauce.
  • Cheese – A Welsh Rarebit is traditionally made with Caerphilly cheese, a hard, crumbly white cheese from Caerphilly. However, it’s also common to use a strong mature cheddar cheese too.
  • Worchester Sauce – A little goes a long way! A dash of Worchester sauce adds a burst of flavour to your cheese and can also be added on top after grilling.
  • Wholegrain Mustard – English mustard is also a good substitute, or you can use mustard powder to give your sauce that slight kick.
  • Bread – We recommend using chunky farmhouse loaf, but you can use any bread of your choice.
  • Brown Ale – Use Guinness or any other stout beer for flavour.
  • Paprika – This is optional but gives it extra depth of flavour & compliments that lush Welsh cheese.

When you have collected your ingredients, simply make a roux on medium heat using your butter and flour, before adding the rest of your ingredients to the mixture and stirring. When you have a nice thick sauce, pour it over your toast and pop it under the grill for 2-3 minutes. Serve on its own or with a small salad garnish.

Variations of Welsh Rarebit

Here are some of the common variations on the traditional Welsh Rarebit recipe:

  • Alcohol-Free – The most common variation of this recipe is taking out the ale. This is so the whole family can enjoy this dish from the kids to the grandparents. To adapt this recipe, simply replace the brown ale with milk and continue the process as normal.
  • For Meat Lovers – A very popular addition to the stomach-warming Welsh Rarebit is bacon and chorizo. Usually, an option on every menu, topping the grilled cheese with these smokey meats really makes this great snack into a delicious lunch.
  • Gluten-Free – The gluten-free version of Welsh Rarebit is simple and only requires two variations to the traditional recipe. Replace your white flour with any brand of Gluten-free flour and use a thick gluten-free loaf instead of white bread or sourdough.
  • Vegan – Even cheese on toast can be vegan here! From your ingredients take out the butter, milk and cheese and replace them with olive oil for your roux, plant-based milk and vegan cheese. Continue your recipe as normal and remember Guinness is now officially vegan, so if you want to keep the ale in you can do so guilt-free!

Does Welsh Rarebit Cause Sleepwalking?

A 1990s comic strip series depicts its character regretting eating Rarebit and having horrible night terrors while sleepwalking. This was a common tale, believed by many and passed on for generations to come.

It is a well-known old wife’s tale that cheese gives you nightmares. Is Welsh Rarebit responsible for this well-known legend? As we know Rarebit consists of cheese, ale and other rich ingredients, is it this concoction of flavours that gives us haunting dreams and night exploration or can science explain?

In 2005 the Cheese Society conducted a study on 200 people eating cheese and how it affects their dreams. There was no evidence that it gave you nightmares however there was evidence that different types of cheeses can trigger different types of dreams and behaviour.  Studies found eating stilton often led to crazy and vivid dreams while eating cheddar often led to dreams of celebrities 3 (source: T. Nielsen and R.A. Powell, Frontiers in Psychology, Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, 2015).

Another study asked a group of volunteers to answer questions on their diet and dreaming patterns and discovered that 44% of people experienced bizarre dream disturbing dreams after eating dairy. A very low percentage showed signs of sleepwalking based on the food they had eaten. The study concluded that cheese was not the source of sleepwalking or nightmares however food types, age and time of eating can all affect our dreams4 (source: T. Nielsen and R.A. Powell, Frontiers in Psychology, Vol.6, No. 47, 2015).

Related Questions

What to Serve With Welsh Rarebit?

Welsh Rarebit is usually served on its own because its quite rich or with a fresh side salad.

Is There Rabbit in Welsh Rarebit?

No, there is no rabbit in Welsh Rarebit, it is traditionally meat-free.

Why is it Called Welsh Rarebit?

It is thought that the name Welsh Rarebit evolved from the original name Welsh Rabbit. This name was a joke at the Welsh peasants who couldn’t afford luxuries such as rabbit so they ate cheese and bread instead.

Welsh Rarebit vs Buck Rarebit – What’s the Difference?

Buck Rarebit is Welsh Rarebit with either a fried or poached egg on top.

Natalya is a Welsh chef from the small town of Tenby on the south coast of Wales. With 17 years of experience as a professional chef, Natalya is passionate about Welsh cuisine and loves to use local produce in her dishes. As well as running her family-run business, Lemon & Lime Kitchen, she, and her wife sell their small online bakery produce on Etsy!