Eight Mighty Mac 'n' Cheese Facts
Maccheroni, to use its Roman name, has survived centuries and crossed continents. After some bad publicity in the eighties and nineties, not helped by the popularity of powdered microwave meals, it is now back in business in a big way.
For more Mac 'n' Cheese mania, listen to The Food Programme, where Sheila Dillon charts the rise of this humble household favourite.
1. Mac in time…
This is a pasta which has graced the earth for millennia. Our Anglicised name for it, Macaroni, is a corruption of the Italian Maccheroni, which comes from the Latin Macerare. The word means to bruise or crush - crushing wheat is how pasta is made.
2. The origins of Mac ’n’ Cheese
The dish originates from Italy, where the maccheroni pasta is baked with cheese and tomatoes, and sometimes aubergines or broccoli, depending on the region.
Although the definitive origins of the dish is unknown, the first known written recipe dates back to thirteenth century southern Italy, where fermented cheese was used to flavour a carbonara sauce.
3. Britain’s first taste
The first British recipe for the dish appeared in 1770 in Elizabeth Raffald's book, The Experienced English Housekeeper.
Raffald's recipe calls for a Béchamel sauce with cheddar cheese (called a Mornay sauce in French cooking) which is mixed with macaroni, sprinkled with Parmesan, and baked until golden.
I think it’s fair to say we’ve loved it ever since.
4. “Put a feather in his hat and call him Macaroni”
In 18th century Britain, the term macaroni was used as slang for a dandy, referring to the white wigs that were worn by such men, with tight curls resembling the pasta tubes.
5. The Thomas Jefferson story
Apparently President Thomas Jefferon is the man responsible for bringing Mac 'n' Cheese to the USA.
Jefferson was minister to France in the 1780s, where he found himself in the French Court, attending banquets laden with exquisite dishes. One of which was a recipe involving macaroni. The story goes that he and his staff set about planning a pasta machine. A prototype was made and shipped from Naples to Paris.
When Jefferson returned to the US, he brought with him the machine, and introduced the dish at a State dinner. The plans for the machine are now held in the Library of Congress. And as for the dish, Mac ‘n’ Cheese is now the number one cheese recipe in the United States.
6. Top comfort food
Macaroni and cheese has remained on the list of America’s top ten comfort foods for decades.
In any given twelve-week period, approximately half of all children in the United States will eat Mac ‘n’ Cheese at least once during this time period.
7. A Caribbean twist
The Caribbean take on the dish is called Macaroni Pie.
It has no crust and is sometimes eaten cold, ‘Caribbean style’. It’s popular in Barbados where it’s served as a side dish, often with a spicy twist – with lots of crushed black pepper, curry powder and hot chili sauces.
8. A pie petition
Meanwhile in Scotland, macaroni pie is prepared by filling a scotch pie with macaroni and cheese and then baking it. The bakery chain Greggs previously sold it in Scotland, but stopped in June 2015, which spurred an online campaign and petition for the company to return the dish. Several prominent Scottish politicians signed the petition, including Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Ruth Davidson (Conservative) and Kezia Dugdale (Labour) – a cross-party agreement!