The First Macaroni and Cheese Recipe?

Was Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, the originator of the first macaroni and cheese recipe? So some say, yes! Others say, no.

When Jefferson returned to American in 1787 after serving as the US ambassador to France, he brought with him a pasta machine that came from Italy. Always the inventor, Jefferson soon devised a pasta machine of his own. A diagram of this invention can be seen in the United States Library of Congress.

Apparently, his creativity expanded beyond machinery to food. Also in the Library of Congress is a description of a meal served that included a cheese and pasta pie. This was made by first cooking the pasta, called macaroni, then mixing it with butter and cheese and adding a bit of salt. The mixture was then baked in an oven until hot and bubbly. An interpretation of this recipe, named “Tho-mouse Jefferson’s Macaroni and Cheese,” can be found in Capital Cooking With Woodrow and Friends by Barnes, Barnes, and Corini.

Some consider Jefferson’s dish to be the original macaroni and cheese. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that this was the first documented appearance of macaroni and cheese, and that the dish gained notice because it was served at the table of such a prominent man.

Certainly, that Jefferson was not the only president to appreciate “macaroni pie.” Mac and cheese was Ronald Reagan’s favorite dish, and he apparently requested it on his birthdays. The White House Staff prepared President Reagan’s macaroni and cheese. This recipe consisted of sharp cheddar cheese, warm milk, a pinch of dry mustard and a touch of Worcestershire sauce. This recipe appears in The White House Family Cookbook by Haller and Aronson.

Mac and cheese may have been born in a president’s kitchen, but thanks to Sam Kraft, it became widely known as everyman’s fare. The Kraft Co. launched Kraft Macaroni & Cheese dinner in 1937 in both the United States and Canada. For Sam Kraft, the timing was fortuitous. With the Second World War came rationing of food. Mac and cheese, a meatless, hearty and inexpensive meal, became a staple in many households.

During the following decades, Kraft released many variations on its original product. Flavor and shelf-life improved. The macaroni took new shapes to reflect the times. And, of course, other companies have added their versions of mac and cheese to the shelves of grocery stores throughout the US and Canada.

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