America is a melting pot that was formed by the hard-working people who migrated here from lands as far east as China and Japan and as far north as Russia and Europe. They utilized American supplies and prepared them in ways that they had prepared them in their homeland.
True American food is a collection of these culinary traditions passed down from generation to generation”.Each culture brought their cooking methods, food, and spices to America. They farmed the soil, hunted game, and incorporated their ways into the food of America.
Macaroni and Cheese is the ultimate comfort food. So who came up with the idea to combine macaroni with creamy cheese to create a simple casserole?
Pasta and cheese casseroles have been recorded as early as the 14th century in the Italian cookbook, Liber de Coquina, one of the oldest medieval cookbooks, which featured a dish of parmesan and pasta. A cheese and pasta casserole recorded in the medieval English cookbook, The Forme of Cury, was also written in the 14th century. It was made with fresh, hand-cut pasta which was sandwiched between a mixture of melted butter and cheese.
The first modern recipe for macaroni and cheese was included in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1770 book, The Experienced English Housekeeper. Raffald’s recipe is a Béchamel sauce with cheddar cheese which is mixed with macaroni, sprinkled with Parmesan, and baked until bubbly and golden.
The US President Thomas Jefferson encountered macaroni in Paris and brought the recipe back to Monticello. Jefferson drew a sketch of the pasta and wrote detailed notes on how to make it. In 1793, he commissioned the US ambassador to France, William Short, to purchase a machine for making it. Evidently, the machine was not suitable, as Jefferson later imported both macaroni and Parmesan cheese for his use at Monticello. In 1802, Jefferson served “a pie called macaroni” at a state dinner.
A recipe called “macaroni and cheese” appeared in the 1824 cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, written by Mary Randolph. Randolph’s recipe had three ingredients: macaroni, cheese, and butter, layered together and baked in a hot oven. The cookbook was the most influential cookbook of the 19th century, according to culinary historian Karen Hess. Similar recipes for macaroni and cheese occur in the 1852 Hand-book of Useful Arts, and the 1861 Godey’s Lady’s Book. By the mid-1880s, cookbooks as far west as Kansas and Missouri, included recipes for macaroni and cheese casseroles.
Kraft Foods introduced the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner in 1937, at the end of the Great Depression. Called it “the housewife’s best friend, a nourishing one-pot meal,” and that it was a fast, filling, and inexpensive way to feed a family. In that year alone, 8 million boxes were sold.
Cheesemaking, which began 10,000 years ago, was originally about survival for a farm family or community by taking a very perishable protein (milk) and transforming it into something less perishable (cheese) so that there would be something to eat at a later date. The first cheese factory in the U.S. was built in 1851, making cheddar one of the first foods affected by the Industrial Revolution. Before that, all cheese made in the United States was made on a farm, usually by the farm wife or a cheese maid. As foods industrialize, they often go from being made by women to being made by men, and so it was with cheese: Women were mostly absent from the cheese factories, and didn’t return to cheesemaking until the artisanal cheese revolution of the past few decades. Processed cheese, which was invented 107 years ago, is basically cheese that is emulsified and cooked, rendering it much less perishable (but also no longer a “living food” because, unlike natural cheese, processed cheese’s flavor will no longer alter with age).
Original homemade recipes included pasta, butter or cream, and Parmesan cheese, American cooks often improvised, using cheddar, Colby or the more affordable processed cheese, and spices like nutmeg and mustard. While Cheddar cheese is most commonly used for macaroni and cheese, other cheeses may also be used — usually sharp in flavor — and two or more cheeses can be combined. Popular recipes include using Gruyere, Gouda, Havarti, and Parmesan cheese.
So, while no single cook can lay claim to the classic macaroni and cheese recipe, everyone has a favorite version of the dish.
Here is my version. I like to use a combination of cheeses because it makes for a tasty dish.
Baked Macaroni And Cheese
1 lb dried short pasta (penne, elbow, fusilli)
4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup instant flour (Wondra) or all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried yellow mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 oz Velveeta processed cheese, cut into cubes
8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup plain panko breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. (I prefer to bake this dish at a lower temperature so that the casserole stays creamy.)
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
In the same pot mix the cold milk with the instant flour; add the butter and place the pan on medium heat.
Stirring often, bring the sauce to boiling, reduce the heat and cook until thickened, whisking often. Add the salt, mustard, and cayenne. Add the Velveeta and heat until melted. Add the cooked pasta and mix well. Pour into a buttered 9×13 inch baking dish.
Mix the breadcrumbs and shredded cheddar together and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.
(The casserole can be made ahead to this stage and refrigerated until baking time. Add 15 minutes to the baking time if the casserole is refrigerated.)
Bake for 45 minutes until heated through and the topping turns golden.