Mac n’ Cheese: it’s history
The history of macaroni and cheese dates back as far as the 14th century in Italy. That version was somewhat different than what we know today here in the States: it was hand-cut pasta sandwiched between a mixture of melted butter and cheese. The origin is English and consists of cooked macaroni pasta and a cheese sauce, most commonly cheddar. Traditional macaroni and cheese is a casserole based in the oven but can also be prepared stove-top or using a packaged mix.
American president, Thomas Jefferson, encountered macaroni both in Paris and northern Italy. In 1793, he commissioned the American ambassador to Paris to purchase a machine for making it. Evidently, the president didn’t find the machine suitable, and later imported both macaroni and Parmesan cheese from Italy. In 1802, Jefferson served a “pie called macaroni” at a state dinner. Its said that some attendees of that dinner weren’t too fond of the dish. Nevertheless, since that time, baked macaroni and cheese has remained popular in the U.S.
There are several regional variations of mac n’ cheese. Pasta other than macaroni noodles are often used, such as penne or rigatoni; most any short-cut extruded pasta will do, but especially those with folds or pockets to hold the cheese are best. Cheddar cheese is most commonly used for macaroni and cheese but other cheeses, especially those with a sharp flavor, work well.
A recipe called “macaroni and cheese” first appeared in the 1824 cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, written by Mary Randolph. Her recipe consisted of three ingredients: macaroni, cheese and butter, all layered together and baked in a hot oven. This cookbook was the most influential cookbook of the 19th century. By the mid-1880’s, cookbooks all over the country included recipes for macaroni and cheese casseroles. Factory production of the main ingredients made the dish affordable and recipes made is accessible but not notably popular. As it became more accessible to a broader section of society, macaroni and cheese lost its upper class appeal.
In the U.S., July 14 has been branded National Macaroni and Cheese day!