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Macaroni and cheese
Alternative namesMac and cheese
Macaroni cheese
CourseMain or side dish
Place of originEngland[1]
Region or stateWidespread across the United Kingdom, United States, Canada
Serving temperatureHot or warm
Main ingredientsMacaroni, cheese, milk, butter

Macaroni and cheese (also known as mac and cheese in Canada and the United States and macaroni cheese in the United Kingdom[2]) is a dish of macaroni and a cheese sauce, most commonly cheddar sauce.[3][4]

Its origins trace back to cheese and pasta casseroles dating to the 14th century in Italy and medieval England. The traditional macaroni and cheese is a casserole baked in the oven; however, it may be prepared in a sauce pan on top of the stove or using a packaged mix.[4] The cheese is often first incorporated into a Béchamel sauce to create a Mornay sauce, which is then added to the pasta. In the United States, it is considered a comfort food.[5][6]


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Cheese and pasta casseroles were recorded in the 14th century in the Italian cookbook Liber de Coquina, which featured a dish of Parmesan cheese and pasta. A cheese and pasta casserole known as makerouns, was recorded in the 14th-century medieval English cookbook the Forme of Cury.[7] It was made with fresh, hand-cut pasta which was sandwiched between a mixture of melted butter and cheese, the recipe comparing it to losyns, a dish similar to lasagne. The recipe given (in Middle English) was:

The first modern recipe for macaroni and cheese was included in Elizabeth Raffald's 1769 book, The Experienced English Housekeeper. Raffald's recipe is for a Béchamel sauce with cheddar cheese—a Mornay sauce in French cooking—which is mixed with macaroni, sprinkled with Parmesan, and baked until bubbly and golden.[1]

To dress Macaroni with Permasent Cheese. Boil four Ounces of Macaroni ’till it be quite tender, and lay it on a Sieve to drain, then put it in a Tolling Pan, with about a Gill of good Cream, a Lump of Butter rolled in Flour, boil it five Minutes, pour it on a Plate, lay all over it Permasent Cheese toasted; send it to the Table on a Water Plate, for it soon goes cold.

Another recipe from 1784 stated that the small tubes of macaroni must be boiled, then drained in a sifter before being moved to a frying pan. Heavy cream is then added to the macaroni along with a "knob of butter" rolled in flour, and it must be cooked for five minutes before being transferred to a dish and topped with toasted Parmesan and pepper.[9] Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery in All Its Branches (1845) has a similar recipe for macaroni and cheese, called "Macaroni a la Reine", which states that while the macaroni is being boiled to its tenderness, the cook must "dissolve gently ten ounces of any rich, well-flavoured white cheese in full three quarters of a pint of good cream; add a little salt, a rather full seasoning of cayenne, from half to a whole saltspoonful of pounded mace, and a couple of ounces of sweet fresh butter". The recipe goes on that "the maccaroni, previously well-drained, may then be tossed gently in it, or after it is dished, the cheese may be poured equally over the maccaroni" before being thickly covered with breadcrumbs "fried of a pale gold color, and dried perfectly, either before the fire or in an oven, when such an addition is considered an improvement."[10]

The 1861 edition of the famous British Victorian cookbook Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management included two instances of "Macaroni, as usually served with the Cheese Course". One of them states:

Wash the macaroni, and boil it in the gravy and milk until quite tender, without being broken. Drain it, and put it into rather a deep dish. Beat the yolks of the eggs with the cream and 2 tablespoonfuls of the liquor the macaroni was boiled in; make this sufficiently hot to thicken, but do not allow it to boil; pour it over the macaroni, over which sprinkle the grated cheese and the butter broken into small pieces; brown with a salamander, or before the fire, and serve.[11]

In the United Kingdom, during the 2010s, it has seen a surge in popularity, becoming widespread as a meal and as a side order in both fast food and upmarket restaurants.[12]

United States

James Hemings, a classically trained French chef enslaved by US president Thomas Jefferson, was instrumental in bringing the recipe to the United States after Jefferson encountered it in Paris.[13] Jefferson drew a sketch of the pasta and wrote detailed notes on the extrusion process. 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.[14] In 1802, Jefferson served "a pie called macaroni" at a state dinner. The menu of the dinner was reported by Reverend Manasseh Cutler, who apparently was not fond of the cheesy macaroni casserole.[15] Nevertheless, since that time, baked macaroni and cheese has remained popular in the United States.

Baked macaroni and cheese

A recipe called "macaroni and cheese" appeared in the 1824 cookbook The Virginia House-Wife written by Mary Randolph. Randolph's recipe had three ingredients: macaroni, cheese, and butter, layered together and baked in a hot oven.[16] The cookbook was the most influential cookbook of the 19th century, according to culinary historian Karen Hess.[17] 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 Festus, Missouri, included recipes for macaroni and cheese casseroles. Factory production of the main ingredients made the dish affordable, and recipes made it accessible, but not notably popular. As it became accessible to a broader section of society, macaroni and cheese lost its upper-class appeal.[18]


Macaroni and cheese was brought to Canada by British immigrants, coming from other parts of the British Empire. Macaroni and cheese recipes have been attested in Canada since at least Modern Practical Cookery in 1845, which suggests a puff pastry lining (suggesting upper-class refinement); a sauce of cream, egg yolks, mace, and mustard; and grated Parmesan or Cheshire cheese on top. Canadian Cheddar cheese was also becoming popularized at this time and was likely also used during that era.[19]

Macaroni and cheese is very popular in contemporary Canada. Kraft Dinner is the most popular brand of packaged macaroni and cheese. Sasha Chapman, writing in The Walrus, considered it to be Canada's national dish, ahead of poutine.[19] In fact, Canadians purchase nearly 25% of the 7 million boxes of Kraft Dinner sold worldwide each week.[20]


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Pasta other than macaroni are often used: almost any short-cut extruded pasta and many of the decorative cut pasta will do, particularly those with folds and pockets to hold the cheese. When made with conchiglie the dish may be referred to as "shells and cheese".

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. Other cheeses can be used such as Gruyère, Gouda, Havarti, and Jarlsberg cheese.[21]

Macaroni and cheese can be made by simply layering slices of cheese and pasta (often with butter or evaporated milk) then baking in a casserole, rather than preparing as a cheese sauce.[3] Also, some like to include a crunchy topping to their baked macaroni and cheese by topping it off with bread crumbs or crushed crackers, which also keeps the noodles on top from drying out when baking.

Macaroni and cheese pizza

One novelty presentation is deep-fried macaroni and cheese found at fairs and food carts.[22]

Regional variations and analogues

In Scotland, macaroni and cheese can often be found in pies, known as a macaroni pie.[23]

A similar traditional dish in Switzerland, dating from the 19th century, is called Älplermagronen (Alpine herder's macaroni), which is also available in boxed versions. Älplermagronen are made of macaroni, cream, cheese, roasted onions, and in some recipes, potatoes. In the Canton of Uri, the potatoes are traditionally omitted, and in some regions, bacon or ham is added. The cheese is often Emmental cheese or Appenzeller cheese. It is usually accompanied by apple sauce.[24]

Prepared and packaged mixes

A plate of pre-packaged Kraft macaroni and cheese, served with tomato and sausage

The earliest known iteration of boxed macaroni and cheese came from a salesman in St. Louis, Missouri named Grant Leslie.[25] Leslie used rubber bands to attach processed cheese produced by Kraft Foods to boxes of pasta in an attempt to increase pasta sales.[26] Kraft hired Leslie and began to produce Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (known as Kraft Dinner or KD in Canada) in 1937 with the slogan "make a meal for four in nine minutes". It was an immediate success in the US and Canada amidst the economic hardships of the Depression. During the Second World War, rationing led to increased popularity for the product, of which two boxes could be obtained for one food rationing stamp, or one box for 19 cents.[26][27]

Packaged macaroni and cheese are now available in frozen form or as boxed ingredients for simplified preparation. Boston Market, Michelina's, Kraft Foods, Cracker Barrel, and Stouffer's are some of the more recognizable brands of prepared and frozen macaroni and cheese available in the United States. "Macaroni and cheese loaf", a deli meat which contains both macaroni and processed cheese bits, can be found in some stores.[28] A variety of packaged mixes that are prepared in a sauce pan on the stove or in a microwave oven are available. A number of different products on the market use this basic formulation with minor variations in ingredients.[29]

Although high in carbohydrates, calories, fat, and salt, macaroni and cheese is a source of protein and certain variations of the dish can decrease the negative health aspects.[30]

See also


  1. ^ a b Raffald, Elizabeth (1769). The experienced English housekeeper. Manchester : J. Harrop for the author, etc. p. 261.
  2. ^ "Macaroni cheese recipe". BBC Food. Archived from the original on 2023-03-08. Retrieved 2023-12-16.
  3. ^ a b Moskin, Julia (4 January 2006). "Macaroni and Lots of Cheese". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 20 May 2016. Retrieved 30 January 2009.
  4. ^ a b "Perfect Macaroni and Cheese". Martha Stewart Living. 66 (February 1999). Archived from the original on July 20, 2019. Retrieved September 22, 2012.
  5. ^ Joseph, Dana (10 May 2012). "American food: the 50 greatest dishes". CNN Travel. Archived from the original on 21 May 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  6. ^ Clark, Liam (27 July 2016). "What is Macaroni and Cheese (Mac and Cheese)?". Forkit. Archived from the original on 10 August 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  7. ^ a b c James L. Matterer. "Makerouns". Archived from the original on 2018-10-20. Retrieved 2010-10-20.
  8. ^ "The Forme Of Cury". Archived from the original on 2018-08-01. Retrieved 2014-02-27.
  9. ^ Townsends (2018-02-26). "'Macaroni' - A Recipe From 1784". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-11-17. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  10. ^ "Macaroni a la Reine". History in the Making. 2020-06-27. Archived from the original on 2023-06-01. Retrieved 2023-06-01.
  11. ^ Beeton, Mrs (Isabella Mary) (1861). The book of household management [electronic resource] : comprising information for the mistress, housekeeper, cook, kitchen-maid, butler, footman, coachman, valet, upper and under house-maids, lady's maid, maid-of-all-work, laundry-maid, nurse and nurse-maid, monthly, wet, and sick nurses, etc. etc. also, sanitary, medical, & legal memoranda with a history of the origin, properties, and uses of all things connected with home life and comfort. London : S.O. Beeton. Retrieved 20 February 2024.
  12. ^ Samuel Muston (2013-05-02). "How did macaroni and cheese become elevated to the new sought-after side dish?". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2015-09-25. Retrieved 2014-02-27.
  13. ^ Medrano, Kastalia (11 January 2018). "Kitchen of Thomas Jefferson's Slave Discovered". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 31 March 2023. Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  14. ^ McLaughlin, Jack. Jefferson and Monticello: The Biography of a builder. p. 229.
  15. ^ Cutler, William Parker, Julia Perkins Cutler, Ephraim Cutler Dawes, Peter Force (1888). Life, Journal, and Correspondence of Manasseh Cutler, Volume 2. R. Clarke & Co. pp. 71–72.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ "The Project Gutenberg eBook of the Virginia Housewife, by Mary Randolph". Archived from the original on 2015-07-24. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
  17. ^ Randolph, Mary (1984). Hess, Karen (ed.). The Virginia House-wife (Facsimile First ed.). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. p. ix.
  18. ^ Kummer, Corby (July 1986). "Pasta". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 5 March 2014. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  19. ^ a b Chapman, Sasha (September 2012). "Manufacturing Taste". The Walrus. Archived from the original on 2013-01-05. Retrieved September 1, 2012.
  20. ^ "5 odd facts about Canada |". Archived from the original on 2020-04-25. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  21. ^ "Jarlsberg Mac and Cheese with Jalapeño and Crispy Pork Belly". culture: the word on cheese. Archived from the original on 2021-04-25. Retrieved 2021-04-25.
  22. ^ Bryan Martin (May 27, 2014). "Deep fried mac and cheese: A hipster hit". Archived from the original on June 6, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  23. ^ Harry Harris (Jan 23, 2017). "Macaroni Pie Is the Scottish Mash-up Dreams Are Made Of". Archived from the original on April 1, 2023. Retrieved April 1, 2023.
  24. ^ Genossenschaft, Schweizer Milchproduzenten SMP. "Älplermagronen mit Apfelmus - Rezept". Swissmilk (in German). Retrieved 2024-02-08.
  25. ^ "Yum, Mac 'N' Cheese! Chemistry Article for Students | Scholastic Science World Magazine". Retrieved 2024-01-12.
  26. ^ a b "Manufacturing Taste ·". 2017-02-22. Archived from the original on 2017-02-22. Retrieved 2024-01-12.
  27. ^ "Kraft Macaroni & Cheese: A History". Chicago Tribune. 2010-08-14. Archived from the original on 2023-12-12. Retrieved 2023-12-16.
  28. ^ Ellis-Christensen, Tricia. "What is Macaroni and Cheese Loaf?". wiseGEEK. Archived from the original on 24 November 2011. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  29. ^ "Macaroni and Cheese Ratings & Reviews | Best & Worst Products | GoodGuide". Archived from the original on 2014-07-17. Retrieved 2023-08-10.
  30. ^ "The Healthiest Macaroni and Cheese Brands". Archived from the original on 2020-02-01. Retrieved 2020-05-12.

Further reading