In a large heavy-bottomed pan, Madeline used a Le Creuset cast iron pot, heat the water over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Stir in the salt and baking soda.
Add the cornmeal to the pot in a steady stream and stir constantly until all the cornmeal is added. Bring the water back to a boil, still stirring constantly for one minute.
Keep the Heat Low
Lower the heat to as low as you can go without the flame going out on a gas stove or the lowest possible setting on electric. You don’t want the polenta to “bubble or sputter” so if you lowest setting doesn’t do it, use a flame tamer or heat diffuser to lower the heat.
Cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and remove any lumps with a whisk to remove any that may have formed. Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the pan.
Cover the pot and cook for another 20 to 25 minutes until the polenta is perfectly cooked. It should be tender but not mushy.
Add the butter and cheese, stir, add the the black pepper to taste, stir again, cover and let it sit for 5 minutes.