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Cheese Woodchuck

by

Yield: 3 servings as a main course, 6 as a snack

The origins of this recipe are fodder for a good debate, best over a plate of this corn-and-cheese sauce on crusty toasted bread. Theory #1: In a 1966 issue of Yankee, reader Mildred B. Larrabee shared this recipe, along with the story of an ill-fated ship from Amsterdam that foundered in a storm off the coast of Maine, in December 1710. On board: hundreds of wheels of wax-coated cheese, many of which floated safely to shore on Peaks Island (the crew were not so lucky). "The women [on the island] were hard-taxed to find ways in which to utilize it in such ingenious recipes as to avoid the exclamation: 'Oh, not cheese again!'" Larrabee's kin had deep roots on Peaks Island, and she theorized that this old family recipe might have come from that period. Theory #2: Another "woodchuck" dish, on record from the 1930s, uses canned tomatoes or tomato soup in a flour-thickened sauce with melted cheese. Both are essentially variations on Welsh rarebit. So is this a pre-Revolutionary treat or a 20th-century invention? It's delicious either way.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 pound grated cheese, such as aged Gouda or cheddar
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 cups fresh corn, scraped from about 3 cobs
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley or savory
  • 6 slices toasted sourdough or other crusty bread
  • Garnish: more minced parsley, savory, or other herb

Instructions:

Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and salt and cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add milk and stir until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and sprinkle in cheese, stirring continuously. When fully melted, spoon 1/4 cup of the mixture into a small bowl with the egg yolks, whisking as you do. Whisk in an additional 1/4 cup of the mixture, then pour back into the pot. Stir until thickened. Add corn and parsley. Serve hot over toast and garnished with fresh herbs.
Updated Tuesday, August 14th, 2007
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