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Welsh Rarebit

Welsh Rarebit

Fergus Henderson’s St. John is the restaurant that launched a thousand pig logos—and many imitators. Since it opened in 1994 in a whitewashed former smokehouse next to London’s wholesale meat market, St. John and Fergus Henderson have become much-copied gastronomic icons.
With his unique personal aesthetic, Henderson’s dishes can sometimes read like a stark list of ingredients. But underneath everything is formidable technical skill. There must be—the complete lack of superfluous garnishes on each plate gives the cook nowhere to hide. Each ingredient must be scrupulously sourced and sensitively handled. The same mentality is reflected in Henderson’s approach to cheese. St. John has no compendious cheese trolley with “too many little bits of cheese, all arranged in a circle.” Instead, Henderson prefers to offer four scrupulously kept cheeses. “Cheese is human, too,” he says. “It needs to be looked after.”
A great English tradition, Welsh rarebit is generally eaten at the very end of the meal and washed down with a glass of port. Justifiably popular as a bar snack at St. John, this also makes for a comforting supper. Fergus uses Montgomery’s Cheddar from Somerset in the west of England.
Servings 6


  • Knob of butter about a tablespoon
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon English mustard powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¾ cup Guinness beer
  • 2 tablespoons or more, to taste Worcestershire sauce, plus a splash to serve
  • 1 pound mature strong cheddar cheese grated
  • 6 thick slices bread lightly toasted


  • Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Stir in the flour, and let these cook together briefly until the mixture smells toasty but is not browning. Stir in the mustard powder and cayenne pepper. Add the Guinness and Worcestershire sauce, and mix well. Reduce heat to low, and stir in the cheese; let it gently melt. When it is all of a smooth consistency, remove from the heat. Pour out into a shallow container, and allow it to set at room temperature.
  • Spread the mixture thickly on each slice of toast, and place under the grill. Cook until the topping is bubbling and dark golden brown. Serve with a splash of Worcestershire, if desired.

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Francis Percival

Francis Percival writes on food and wine for The World of Fine Wine. His work has appeared in Decanter and the Financial Times in the UK and Culture, Saveur, and Gourmet in the US. Besides writing, Francis also teaches classes for Neal’s Yard Dairy.