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National Mac and Cheese Day

Mac and cheese, more formally known as macaroni and cheese, is one of the most beloved comfort foods. As is apparent from its name, it is made with macaroni—usually of the elbow-shaped variety—as well as with melted cheese. Other types of pasta can be used, and other ingredients are commonly added with the cheese. It can be made from scratch or out of a box, the latter variety being the first meal that many learn how to make.

Etruscans, Romans, Chinese, and Koreans may have all had a hand in the invention of mac and cheese. It likely was being eaten by the Early Middle Ages, although the first recipes didn't appear until centuries later. The first recipe may have appeared in an Italian cookbook titled Liber de Coquina (Book of Cooking) in the thirteenth century. The recipe, titled de lasanis, consisted of sheet pasta that was cut into two-inch squares, cooked in water, and tossed with grated cheese, which most likely was Parmesan. Mac and cheese gained popularity around Europe at this time. A mac and cheese recipe dating from 1769 that appeared in The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald is sometimes seen as being the first modern mac and cheese recipe.

Thomas Jefferson is sometimes credited with bringing mac and cheese to North America, and if he wasn't the one to do so, he at least helped popularize it. He enjoyed many pasta dishes in France and brought back a pasta machine and noodle recipes. Mac and cheese became the signature dish of his slave and chef James Hemings, and Jefferson even had the dish served at a state dinner in 1802.

The original mac and cheese recipes usually used Parmesan cheese, along with pasta and butter or cream. American cooks tweaked the recipes and used cheddar, colby, or cheap processed cheeses, and sometimes added spices like nutmeg and mustard. During colonial times, casserole dishes similar to mac and cheese were common, which came from English recipes and were served at church suppers. Until the Industrial Revolution, when it became easier to manufacture pasta, mac and cheese was primarily an upper-class food. Although, African Americans commonly ate it as a weekend or celebration food during the antebellum era, a tradition that continues for many African Americans today.

During the twentieth century, the popularity of mac and cheese was accelerated by industrialization and the spread of convenient packaging. Kraft Foods debuted the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner in 1937, in the midst of the Great Depression, when consumers were looking for cheap food, particularly cheap protein. It served four and sold for 19 cents a box, with 8 million boxes being sold in the first year. During World War II, rationing was in place, which continued to bolster the popularity of Kraft's mac and cheese. It has remained the standard version of boxed mac and cheese and of the food in general.

Although mac and cheese is generally thought to be made on the stove from a box that includes macaroni and a cheese powder packet, and even though it is ordinarily considered to be a cheap food, these are not always the case. Some restaurants have mac and cheese on their menu, some have it as their main focus, and some of them are even purveyors of fine dining cuisines. The variety of cheeses used to make mac and cheese have continued to expand as well, with Gouda, Gruyère, and goat all being used today. Bacon, jalapeños, tomatoes, shallots, herbs, chili seasoning, barbecue chicken, and other ingredients are sometimes added to mac and cheese.

On National Mac and Cheese Day, restaurants and brands that make mac and cheese sometimes offer deals or even give away free mac and cheese. Some companies that have participated in these ways in the past include Noodles & Company, Potbelly, Stouffers, Davanni's, and B. Good. Events related to the day have also been held in various cities.

How to Observe

Here are some ideas to get you started on celebrating the day:

  • Check for mac and cheese specials and deals being offered by companies or taking place at restaurants.
  • Check to see if any National Mac and Cheese Day events are happening in your community.
  • Make some homemade mac and cheese.
  • Make some Velveeta mac and cheese.
  • Make a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner.
  • Make some mac and cheese and add ingredients such as bacon or jalapeños.
  • Eat some mac and cheese at a restaurant.
  • Make or buy some foods made from mac and cheese, such as mac and cheese pizza, mac and cheese bites, or a grilled mac and cheese sandwich.

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