All About Macaroni and Cheese

Some History and a Variety of Recipes for Macaroni and Cheese

Classic Macaroni and Cheese
Diana Rattray

It probably wouldn't be on the menu for your mother-in-law's first dinner visit, and it isn't exactly gourmet fare, but macaroni and cheese is one of the most popular -- if not the most popular -- American comfort foods. Most soul food and Southern cookbooks have recipes for the American favorite, with few differences from one to the next.

Some believe the dish was created by founding father Thomas Jefferson, known for his great interest in food, and in a 1996 "Restaurants & Institutions" article, Barbara Bell Matuszewski wrote that Jefferson served the dish in the White House in 1802. However, noted food historian Karen Hess claims Jefferson did not invent the dish, though he did return from a trip to Paris with a macaroni mold. In the recipes below, you'll find a recipe for Old-Fashioned Macaroni and Cheese adapted from Mary Randolph's (Jefferson's cousin) "The Virginia Housewife," first published in 1824.

According to John Mariani, author of "The Dictionary of American Food and Drink," macaroni and cheese was first made in the nineteenth century, but it took on an even greater popularity when Kraft Foods introduced the Kraft Dinner (macaroni and cheese) in 1937. According to a company spokesperson, Kraft now sells more than one million boxes of the dinners every day! The Kraft dinners are so popular, in fact, that children and some adults have been known to turn up their noses when offered a rich and delicious homemade version.

Homemade macaroni and cheese can be a simple layering of cooked macaroni, shredded (or sliced) cheese and salt and pepper, or it can be made with a white sauce-cheese base, topped with more cheese and buttered crumbs before baking. This ever-so-humble dish is delicious and satisfying as is, but you can jazz it up (homemade or package version) with the addition of chopped vegetables, meat, fish or poultry, or your favorite herbs or spices. Try one of these delicious macaroni and cheese recipes, and don't hesitate to add your own special touch!