Macaroni and cheese go together like peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, or any other classic combination. It is a staple from your childhood that is unlikely to conjure up images of a classic, old Italian kitchen or the English countryside. Instead, you most likely picture your mom serving you up a big old bowl. The history of this perfect dish goes back a bit farther than your mama’s kitchen though.
Versions of macaroni and cheese are noted as early as the 14th century. The first origins of our current style date back to 1769 England in Elizabeth Raffled’s book The Experienced English Housekeeper. She featured a recipe for noodles with a cheddar cheese béchamel sauce topped with Parmesan and breadcrumbs.
It was former President Thomas Jefferson who is credited with introducing the United States to macaroni and cheese. After a trip to northern Italy, he had hired multiple people to attempt to recreate macaroni he had eaten. Despite his careful notes, a satisfactory product was never produced, so he began importing it. In 1802, he reportedly served a baked macaroni and cheese “pie” at a state dinner in his home. Despite some negative feedback by guests, the dish exploded with popularity.
The first documented recipe for mac and cheese in the States is in Mary Rudolph’s cookbook, The Virginia Housewife. The recipe called for just three ingredients: cheese, butter, and macaroni. By the 1880’s the dish was found in cookbooks all over the coast.
In 1937 during the Great Depression, Kraft Foods introduced a boxed version of macaroni and cheese. For 19 cents a box a family of four had a hearty dinner. With rationing and more women working outside the home, this was a quick and easy way to get dinner on the table.
Kraft’s version is still popular today while the homemade version is a bit more complicated than the simple three ingredient recipe that was first published. Now, a typical first step is to make a creamy roux of milk, butter, and flour. Almost any kind of cheese can then be added in to create a creamy cheese sauce that goes on just about any form of noodle. However, most commonly, the traditional elbow noodle is the most widely used.
Whether you go for the boxed stuff or make it from scratch, you have to admit macaroni and cheese is one magnificent meal.