The origin of macaroni and cheese

Mac 'n' cheese

The origin of macaroni and cheese: I have to confess that until Saturday I was a bit of a Mac ‘n’ Cheese snob. The reason for this is that I have only seen and tasted this dish ready-made from the supermarket, or it may have been MacDonald’s.

The versions I had been used to seeing around America resembled what could only be described as a thick, gluey soup with macaroni lodged in it. The aroma and colour of Mac ‘n’ Cheese often had me saying to Enzo, “why do people want to eat this stuff and where does it come from? Is it Italian!?”

Mac ‘n’ cheese

The origin of macaroni and cheese

Macaroni pasta must have originated in Italy, and so too the cheese. It has been well documented that pasta and cheese was being prepared during the Middle Ages and that medieval recipe collections often featured pasta dishes with grated cheese and spices. Even today it is common-place to dust cheese sauces with a little nutmeg.

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Let’s have a Mac ‘n’ Cheese blast from the past starting with one of the first documented recipes dated 1367 – 1400 from the court of King Richard II of England, called ‘Macrows‘.

  1. Take and make a thin foil of dough, and carve it in pieces.
  2. Cast them on boiling water and seeth it well.
  3. Take cheese and grate it, and butter, cast beneath and above as for losenges, and serve it forth.


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The following recipe comes from 15th century Italy for a dish called ‘Roman Noodles‘:

  1. Blend meal which has been separated from chaff, with water in the best way.
  2. When it has been blended, spread it out on a board and roll it with a rounded and oblong piece of wood such as bakers are accustomed to use in such a trade.
  3. When it has been drawn out to the width of a finger, cut it. It is so long you would call it a fillet.
  4. It ought to be cooked in rich and continually boiling broth, but it must be cooked in water, put in butter and salt.
  5. When it is cooked, it ought to be put in a pan with cheese, butter, sugar and sweet spices.


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From Italy, Mac ‘n’ Cheese takes a trip back to England where a recipe entitled ‘To dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese‘ appeared in 1769:

  1. Boil four ounces of macaroni till it be quite tender and lay it on a sieve to drain.
  2. Then put it in a tossing pan with about a gill of good cream, a lump of butter rolled in flour, boil it five minutes.
  3. Pour it on a plate, lay all over it Parmesan cheese toasted.
  4. Send to to the table on a water plate, for it soon goes cold.”


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It took some time to travel across the Atlantic where, following an idea from a St. Louis salesman to combine grated American cheese with macaroni, the Kraft company introduced their ‘Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner‘ to America in yellow boxes.

Advertised as a meal for 4 in 9 minutes, at a price of 19 cents, a staggering 8 million boxes were sold in that first year. However, these numbers rapidly increased during World War II because it only used up 1 ration coupon per box. Here is the original Kraft recipe for ‘Macaroni American‘ from 1938:

  • 1 cup elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 Kraft American cheese
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Dash of cayenne
  • Buttered crumbs
  1. Cook macaroni in boiling salted water; drain.
  2. Melt the cheese over low heat in top of a double boiler.
  3. Gradually add the milk, stirring well after each addition of milk.
  4. Add seasonings.
    Place macaroni in a casserole and pour the sauce over it, carefully mixing with a fork.
  5. Cover with crumbs, or with additional grated cheese.
  6. Bake in a moderate oven, 350 degrees, 15 minutes.
  7. Spaghetti, noodles or rice may be substituted for the macaroni.


OK, so I saved the best for last. One Thanksgiving in Formia, Italy, we had the honour of hosting Thanksgiving for some fine, upstanding Americans from the Navy. Ray-Jay, his lovely wife Sheree and their beautiful children. Although Ray-Jay had just come back after weeks of being away from his family, they still found time to whip up a few American delights to add to the table. One of those dishes was, yes you guessed it, Mac ‘n’ Cheese.

Those of you who know me well, will tell you that I often struggle eating pasta here in Italy. So how was it that along with a pile of turkey, vegetables and lashings of gravy, I managed to wolf down not 1, not 2, but 3 servings of Sheree’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese. The reason … because it was so darn good!!

I have truly discovered why America has a deep fondness for this particular comfort food, and the humble Mac ‘n’ Cheese has finally made it’s way into the kitchen here in Paradise for which I bestow upon Sheree many, many thanks.

I will be bestowing my thanks for the recipe with Sheree as soon as she is willing to share it … but don’t go holdin’ your breath now ya’all!

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