Macaroni and Cheese, often called mac n’ cheese, is one of America’s most popular side dishes. The creamy, cheesy, aromatic pasta dish started as layers of cooked pasta sheets and grated parmesan. Today, recipes include ingredients such as broccoli, jalapenos, breadcrumbs, and gourmet cheeses.

National Macaroni and Cheese Day takes place July 14, so let’s look at how the tasty appetizer came to be.

How everyone’s favorite side dish originated

Versions of pasta and cheese date back to the Roman Republic. Originally, recipes called for cheese to be packed in between layers of dough and served to house guests. Over 1000 years later, you can still find cooks making it the same exact way like in French recipe book Liber De Coquina and the Italian cookbook Libre Della Cocina.

These cheese and pasta layered meals resembled what we know today as lasagna. This dish was to be served to the wealthy people of Europe.

English influence

The combination of cheese and pasta became extremely famous. Because of this, England adapted the meal and had transformed it into makerouns. Makerouns are chopped up pieces of dough that you boil, cook, and top with grated Parmesan. Since England was the home of cheddar in the 1300s, this is likely where macaroni and cheese started widely being made with cheddar.

James Hemings and Thomas Jefferson

It wasn’t until the 1700s that Americans discover the yummy combination of cheese and pasta via Thomas Jefferson and his slave, James Hemings. Jefferson took Hemings to France at the exact time the comfort food was moving away from its traditional form to a creamier and cheesier French-inspired pasta. Jefferson took Hemings to France and made him learn how to cook the meals of the French. Upon returning to the Americas, Jefferson would make Hemings, and future chefs, produce the same meals as the French chefs.

Gaining popularity

Macaroni and Cheese became a staple of fine dining among rich Americans. White women would write recipes of the meal in cookbooks since they didn’t have many working opportunities in the 19th century.

Cookbooks around America featured their own version of Macaroni, but it would be the slave cooks actually perfecting the meals. Black women would pass down their style of Macaroni and Cheese to other Black chefs and the dish would be well-known throughout the Black community, ultimately shedding any traces of European roots.

America’s Mac

With the population rising, macaroni and cheese became an easy way to supply food to the poor, albeit through the introduction of The Industrial Revolution. A cheaper alternative to making macaroni noodles allowed for mass production, along with the discovery of sustainable cheddar cheese. These inventions helped Kraft, the leader of Macaroni and Cheese production in the 1900s, sell millions of boxes to families as it could feed up to 4 people.

It’s now the turn of the 20th century. Boxed macaroni is feeding military personal because of its simplicity and convenience. Black families across America are now eating both their homemade and boxed macaroni and cheese, making it a staple of soul food. At the same time, Tensions between the north and south are dying down in the United States. Many Americans started to taste southern cooking and its macaroni dish.

The rich are still eating macaroni with high end products and the poor are able to dine on macaroni without spending much. Black families are going to reinvent the meal for centuries. All this allows Macaroni and Cheese to become the most popular side dish in America today.