The fire-roasted cheese is the medieval precursor to Welsh rarebit.
In First Catch Your Peacock, a cross between a cookbook and a history book about the food of Wales, Bobby Freeman talks about the Welsh’s early passion for caws pobi: cheese melted in front of the fire then spooned onto fresh bread. She traces the dish back to medieval and Tudor times, and considers it the forerunner of the internationally known Welsh rarebit. Even though the country specialized in softer cheese, the Welsh found themselves trading for a harder variety, cheddar, which was better suited to roasting. (Though some accounts point toward ewe’s milk cheese being used in early caws pobi recipes.)
Some people might wonder what’s the difference between spooning freshly melted cheese onto bread and melting the cheese directly on toast in the oven. But there is something far superior about the taste, texture, and contrast of temperatures in the former: the slip and pull of the gooey, fire-roasted cheese, its heat playing against the cool bread. And perhaps the idea of sitting in front of a real fire and watching food cook taps into a primitive satisfaction, reminding us of a time when the world rolled along at a slower pace.
If you have an open fire at home, you can slice your cheese into an oven-proof glass dish, prop it in front of the flames, and wait for the slow melt and sizzle. If you have a wood-burning stove you might layer the cheese into a thick-bottomed metal pan and set it on top. But watch it closely or you could end up with a flat cheese crisp!
Once it’s melted, spoon it onto some slices of fresh bread, hand-cut if possible. Enjoy your caws pobi. Sit a while. There is nothing to rush for. Appreciate this waiting, this slowing down, the simple things in life.
Where to Try It
The Bay Bistro & Coffee HouseIvy Cottage, Rhossili, Swansea, SA3 1PL, United Kingdom
A beachside bistro that boasts great views and delicious Welsh specials.
The Coach HouseAddress: Orchard St, Brecon, LD3 8AN, United Kingdom
This hotel, located in the Welsh market town of Brecon, serves up many local specialties.