It is much more than a divine cheese sauce spread on a slice of bread. The Southland cheese roll, also nicknamed the Southland sushi or roll-up cheese, is a delicious cheese roll and one of New Zealand‘s holiest treasures.
What is a Southland cheese roll?
A Southland cheese roll is a slice of sandwich bread, on which a sauce of evaporated milk (unsweetened condensed milk), cheese and onion soup is spread, before it is rolled then toasted.
It is the classic snack or meal for any Kiwi and is similar to the Welsh rarebit.
How to make a Southland cheese roll
A debate exists about how to make an authentic Southland cheese roll:
- For this recipe, some will opt for grated cheese and others sliced cheese.
- Some would say that the bread should be white, and some would say that whole wheat bread is very good too.
- Some would say that the crust of the sliced bread should be removed and others would say that it should be left.
- Some would say that chopped onion should be incorporated, and others would say that onion soup powder is enough.
- Some would say that the recipe calls for evaporated milk and some would say that regular milk is fine.
- Some people would say adding mustard and some would say to add Worcestershire sauce, parsley, or whatever you like.
But there is one difficult step in the recipe to discuss, that is to heat the mixture before spreading it, so that the cheese melts and the flavors infuse and mingle.
Helen Leach, New Zealand researcher, specializing in food anthropology and professor emeritus at the University of Otago, the stronghold of cheese roll, and other many researchers have identified three basic traditional styles of toppings and all of the known recipes appear to be a variant of these three.
- The first of these recipes developed as a spread in the 1920s, before the invention of rolls, and used a specific spicy Australian cheese, called Rex Cheese. Variants of this style of garnish include the use of spicy or strong cheese with mustard, Worcestershire sauce and even liqueurs like Kahlúa.
- A second recipe also used spicy cheese, but this time mixed with tasty ingredients such as onion, which was cooked in butter or milk, mixed with cheese, then thickened with flour or cornstarch.
- A third version is similar to the second, but uses processed foods as main ingredients, including the dried onion soup mix and evaporated milk.
Today the most used cheese is cheddar, and precisely the Mainland tasty New Zealand grated cheddar.
What is the origin of Southland cheese roll?
Southland (in New Zealand Maori: Murihiku) is the southernmost region of New Zealand.
The first recipes for the Southland cheese roll date from the 1930s, the oldest written recipe seems to have appeared in the New Zealand newspaper New Zealand Truth in 1935.
Although known since this period, the popularity of cheese roll seems to have taken off with the popularity of sliced white bread in the early 1950s.
The earliest recipes referred to the cheese roll under the unusual name of rat traps, a play on words referring to the old nickname of mouse traps used for cheese on toast, but also probably a reference to the cylindrical shape, which was similar to the commercial rodent traps of the time.
The first recipe in a cookbook that researchers at the University of Otago found was in the Jubilee Cookery Book of the Roslyn Presbyterian Church in Dunedin in 1951.
Dunedin is a city in the New Zealand region of Otago, on the east coast of the South Island, it is the second city on the island by population. It seems that Dunedin is where the best cheese rolls can be tasted.
Recipes similar to this Jubilee Cookery Book, for garnish variations, have been found in many community cookbooks in Christchurch (South), New Zealand’s third largest city and the first on the South Island.
The first North Island book to include the Southland cheese roll recipe was in Wellington in 1979.
The Southland cheese roll is extremely popular in Southland and Otago.
New Zealanders like to tell a story about the origins of the Southland cheese roll that the first one was made by a woman named Dorothy McInnes in 1912.
A story where necessity was the mother of invention. Apparently Dorothy would have struggled to put something on the table to feed her 12 children one day while her husband was looking for work. She would have sliced bread very thinly, mixed cheese, remaining onion soup and an egg together, and spread all of this mixture over the bread. She then decided to roll them up, so that she could cook them all at the same time.
These rolls are the epitome of Southland, and has been a pillar of southern cuisine for more than half a century.
If you ask a Southlander who makes the best cheese roll, you will most likely get a different answer every time, so the best and most scientific way to find the best and ultimate simple cheese roll: try the maximum number of possible versions.
When to serve a Southland cheese roll?
The Southland cheese roll is the perfect accompaniment to a soup. It is good in the afternoon at tea time and is even often enjoyed with tea for breakfast. It is also perfect for dinner and some even snack on it after dinner.
The most classic version of Southland cheese roll is the one presented here: white sliced bread, cheddar or other cheese, onion soup powder, onion and Worcestershire sauce.
You will know how to start but you will probably not be able to stop because these cheese rolls are delicious and so addictive.
The New Zealand Southland cheese roll is white bread spread with a sauce of evaporated milk, cheese and onion powder, rolled and toasted.
- 1 small onion finely grated
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and minced (optional)
- ¾ cup unsweetened condensed milk
- 4 teaspoons onion soup powder
- 8 oz. Cheddar or Mainland tasty New Zealand cheddar grated
- 12 slices white sandwich bread with or without crust (or New Zealand Tip Top sandwich bread)
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 6 tablespoons butter
- In a non-stick saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and sauté the onion for 1 minute.
- Add the garlic, mix well and sauté again for a minute.
- Add condensed milk, Worcestershire sauce, onion soup powder and grated cheese.
- Stir until cheese is melted over medium/high heat, then continue stirring until mixture thickens.
- Set aside to cool the mixture.
Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C.
- Spread a generous layer (not too thick) of the cheese mixture on a slice of bread.
- Roll the slice of bread on itself to make a roll and place it on the baking sheet previously lined with parchment paper.
- Repeat the process until the bread and cheese sauce have run out.
Melt the remaining butter and brush each roll with it.
- Bake for 5 to 10 minutes or until golden.
- Serve the hot Southland cheese rolls hot or warm.