Cheesy toast is a classic comfort food, but it’s never accidentally confused with meat. So why is toast with a melted cheese sauce sometimes known as Welsh rabbit, or even Welsh rarebit?
The vegetarian dish with the meaty name probably started as an insult to the Welsh. Though it’s probably been around longer, the first recorded reference to cheesy bread came in 1725, with the rarebit version printed in 1781.
There are many legends as to how this joke originated. "Betty Crocker’s Cookbook" said it was because Welsh peasants weren’t allowed to hunt the fancy rabbits on English noble lands, so they substituted cheese on their bread instead of a meaty stew. Other legends purported it was a dig at how poor the Welsh people were that they couldn’t afford rabbit. Some say it’s not insulting at all, but rather a nod to how frugal the Welsh are.
There may be another explanation though. The Welsh are known for their love of cheese and the name might be an ironic pun, just like Texas caviar (pickled black-eyed peas), Irish apricots (potatoes, of course) and Rocky Mountain oysters (bull testicles).
As for how rabbit became rarebit, that is also a mystery. Some say it’s to differentiate between meat and cheese. It could also be a play on the Welsh accent. However it came to be, the term is now widely used by chefs everywhere to denote this iconic dish.
If you'd like to make it at home, this recipe is quite simple:
There are other variations on Welsh rarebit too. Put an egg on top and it’s a golden buck. Add tomato and it’s a blushing bunny. An English rabbit is made from brown bread soaked in red wine with melted cheese on top. Two slices of bread with melted cheese in the middle is called a grilled cheese sandwich (you might have heard of this one). However you eat your cheese and toast and whatever you call it, it’s the most basic yet ultimate of comfort foods.