Rare Recipe from Bryan Webb, Tyddyn Llan
Prior to moving to Wales, Bryan ran Hilaire in London, a restaurant highly acclaimed by the food guides. Bryan has continued to gather awards and accolades at Tyddyn Llan. His cooking is all about subtle flavours and an uncompromising attitude to sourcing the finest, freshest ingredients.
Being a chef people think that you can eat all the exotic foods in the world, which of course you can but would you really want to every day. People who work in the hospitality industry eat at very irregular hours; staff lunch served at eleven in the morning, dinner at five or well past midnight is the norm in a lot of places, especially in cities. My biggest down fall is not eating a proper meal during the day for lack of time and then when it far too late in the evening I am ravenous, so a midnight snack attack is on the menu. On thing that I am very found of is a door step of toasted bread with a huge heap of freshly grated Keens mature cheddar slowly melted on top until it turns a golden brown, some people would call it Welsh rarebit but that dish is something else.
Flicking through the pages of Bobby Freeman’s classic guide to Welsh food called “first catch your peacock” there are many variations on the welsh rarebit recipe and at first it was simply bread with toasted or roasted cheese, she explains that the Welsh loved the hard English cheese which they could not produce themselves because of the soft, acid soil ( something Welsh cheese makers have now over come) and those living in the south east of Wales would barter there flocks for the Cheddar cheese so they could make their caws pobi and in parts of Wales where cheddar was unavailable they used ewes milk cheese instead, this dish was known as Welsh Rabbit until finally at the end of the 18th century the term rare-bit came into use.
My version of Welsh rarebit is more like the Lady Llanover who was one of the first people to write about Welsh food when she wrote a recipe about boiled cheese which she explains was customary to drink ale with and ultimately towards the end of the 19th century was added to the dish itself.
Apart from a midnight snack or in most people’s lives a light supper with a crisp salad, Welsh rarebit is also good cut into squares as canapés or served as a savoury instead of the cheese course. The famous television chef Gary Rhodes many years ago topped fillets of smoked haddock with the rarebit mixture and baked to a golden brown and served with a tomato salad and a very good dish it was too.
Since the eighties cheese making in Wales has improved vastly and can be found on many a famous restaurant cheese board. In my opinion cheese should be pure and natural so lets forget the smoked and flavoured ones with chilli, ginger and other silly ideas, my ideal welsh cheese board would be a Pant Mawr Preseli which is a soft and creamy cow’s milk with it’s natural rind, Perl Wen; a Brie style cheese with a very clean flavour, Caerphilly from Gorwydd the best by far; a real farmhouse unpasturised Caerphilly with natural dark rind, Llanboidy Cheddar from a rare breed Red Poll herd, firm, medium mature and a deep flavour, Celtic Promise which is a true artisan unpasturised washed rind with full rich farmyard flavours and smells, and for blue there are two choices the Perl Las which is a lively mature flavour of creamy blue or the Gorau Glas from Anglesey which is a fantastic cheese but the price is freighting but you get what you pay for.