What is processed cheese anyway?

The croque monsieur was beaten to the toasted cheese scene by the welsh rarebit.
The croque monsieur was beaten to the toasted cheese scene by the welsh rarebit. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Welsh rarebit or croque monsieur, which came first?

Croque monsieur started out as a brasserie snack when it was "invented" in 1901 in Paris. While toasted ham and cheese sandwiches had been made long before, it was a chef in an eatery in Boulevard des Capucines who added the layer of bechamel and cheese on top and grilled the lot. The first record of a welsh rabbit comes from 1725. At the beginning of the 18th century the word "welsh" was used to refer anything of inferior quality or poor. A welsh comb was to run one's fingers through one's hair to tidy it. Therefore a slice of bread covered with a mixture of cheese, worcestershire sauce, mustard and dark beer or stout and other ingredients then toasted was derogatorily called welsh rabbit. Rabbit was changed in the 1780 to the more effete "rarebit". There is no evidence that it is a welsh dish, although the Welsh are known to be fond of melted cheese. A 14th-century text contains a joke that St Peter wanted to get rid of the Welsh in heaven. He yelled out "Caws pobi'' (Welsh for "toasted cheese"). The Welsh ran out and he slammed the pearly gates behind them. Funnily enough, the French refer to this popular British dish simply as Le Welsh.

What is processed cheese? P. Thornton

I could make a snide comment about this being a food column and therefore there is no room to discuss industrial waste. But I won't. My nana used to make a dish of her own invention, which was a piece of Sunblest white bread over which was spread Golden Circle pineapple relish, several slices of Hutton's black pudding covered with some pieces of Kraft processed cheese carved from the foil-wrapped block. This was grilled under the gas flame of the Metters stove. It was delicious. Processed cheese was developed in 1911 by a Swiss man called Walter Gerber, who grated Emmentaler cheese and mixed it with sodium citrate and heated it. He discovered that the cheese would melt at low temperature without the fat oozing out. Today processed cheese is made with cheese, dairy byproducts, water, salt, sugar, oils, colours and flavours plus the all-important emulsifiers. These stop the fat in the cheese coalescing into globules when heated. This is why some cheeses separate when they are hot – you know, that experience when toasted cheese forms lumpy pieces and pools of oil.

Rose veal comes from calves  that have spent grazing.

Rose veal comes from calves that have spent a period of time outdoors, grazing. Photo: Melissa Adams

Can I get ethical veal? K. Murray

Whoah. This sounds more like a Four Corners expose. Yes, the dairy industry's dirty secret is that most male and some females are sent to market and slaughtered around a week after birth. Some dairy farmers see this waste stream as being wrong and are growing their calves out to much older, around four to eight months, and then sending them off to slaughter. While some argue that all animal slaughter is murder, there are some who find giving calves at least some period of life outdoors is better than the status quo. The product is called "rose veal". In Victoria, look up macscreek.com.au and in NSW visit featherandbone.com.au.


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