Mac And Cheese: Is America’s Creamy Comfort Food 100 Years Old?
Image Credit: Mac And Cheese

Looking for a quick lunch option in the US? It wouldn’t be surprising if you settle for the classic mac and cheese. The comforting feeling of soft macaroni covered in gooey cheese makes it one of America’s favourite foods. So, does that mean that the dish originated here? Or elsewhere?

With so much love that mac and cheese enjoys in the US, it is hard to imagine this classic dish being born elsewhere. Mac is short for macaroni, which, for the unversed, is a kind of pasta. Also known as the elbow-shaped pasta, the fact that the dish comprises pasta instantly transports us to Italy. Interestingly, it is said that macaroni is derived from a Sicilian term that refers to forcefully kneading the dough. Not just the pasta making, but even the earliest Sicilian recipes of pasta include raisins and cinnamon, hinting at the Middle-Eastern origins of the food item.

However, this is not to say that Italy had no role to play in the coming together of this creamy and delectable dish. Historical records suggest that one of the first mentions of a mac and cheese recipe can be found in a 14th Century cookbook, titled Liber De Coquina. This Italian recipe book talks about how pasta sheets are combined with Parmesan cheese to bring ‘de lesanis’.

While this recipe used Parmesan cheese, today, you’ll find powdered form of cheddar being commonly used, giving the mac and cheese a yellowish tinge. This happened when the same idea travelled borders, from Italy to France to England and finally, America. The English were quite fascinated with the idea of pairing macaroni with cheese and an English cookbook of the 18th Century, titled The Experienced English Housekeeper, by Elizabeth Raffald.

Here, a modern-day recipe of mac and cheese finds mention. How was the cheddar added then? While there is no concrete proof, it has been suggested that since Cheddar was a small village in the UK that is known for making cheddar cheese and this kind of cheese is widely consumed in the country, the grated cheddar was dunked in the macaroni here.

Mimicking the European aristocracy and their palates, Thomas Jefferson is considered the man who popularised the mac and cheese combination in the US and turned it into a classic. Upon his return from French expeditions in the late 18th Century, he was in awe of the dish and pestered his kitchen staff to replicate it. Under the supervision of his daughter, Mary Randolph, who was running the house after her mother’s demise, the macaroni machine was imported.

Mary guided her slaves to make the dish as per her father’s preferences but little did she know that this easy, tasty and cheap source of protein would become the favourite food of Southern slaves too. From the 100-year-old cheesemaking techniques to the introduction of powdered cheese in the 1900s, the mac and cheese has surely come a long way. Not only did the mac and cheese serve as a comfort food, it was also an inexpensive boxed meal during the Great Depression in America as well as a closer-to-home filling food for soldiers during World War II.