Mac n Cheese Mysterious Origins: American, English or Italian?

Is mac n cheese American English or Italian?

Mac n cheese is undoubtedly a super popular dish in the States, which Kraft helped spread all over the country. It may be considered an Italian American food, but what are the origins of this recipe? Is Mac n Cheese American? Rumors say it may be Italian..or even English!

If you’re curious about Mac n Cheese history and name origins, you’ll find the answer below!

1. What is Mac n Cheese?

Macaroni and cheese (or Mac n cheese for North Americans) is largely known to be an American comfort food made of very soft macaroni pasta gently spread in a casserole dish and topped with an indulgent mornay sauce that gets slightly brown and crusty when baked.

In America the mornay sauce is made of milk, butter, flour and cheese, whereas in Italy cream and cheese are used instead.

2. Macaroni Origin

There are different theories about the origins of macaroni (in Italian we call it “maccheroni“).

According to linguist Giovanni Alessio, it may come from ancient Greek makarṓnia” that would define a meal for funerals, or else from “macharía”, meaning “barley soup”.

Others say it may come from latinmaccus”, meaning “big jaw”. Who knows!

3. Do we Eat Mac n Cheese in Italy?

Well, it’s not that we eat it everyday (otherwise you can imagine how easily our bellies would grow), but it’s likely that you’ll find this dish in southern Italy.

4. Mac n Cheese History

Is Mac and Cheese Italian Food?

At the beginning of the 14th century, an anonymous Neapolitan familiar with the court of Charles II of Anjou, wrote the cookbook “Liber de Coquina” which indeed contains a recipe for ‘de lasanis‘, sheet noodles cut into squares and sprinkled with grated cheese.

This is the first time ever that pasta and cheese appear in the same recipe.

Is Pasta Italian?

Pasta has long been proven to have Asian origins. As a matter of fact pasta dates to at least 3’500 BC, particularly in Japan and China, and then spread to the Middle East and northern Africa via the Silk Road. It is thought that some 7th-Century nomadic Arabs brought it with them while travelling from Libya to Sicily, from where it spread to the north of the peninsula.

macaroni pasta for mac and cheese

..or is it English?

At the same time that “Liber de Coquina” was being written, another cookbook was published.

It was England’s oldest cookbook “Forme of Cury”, written by King Richard II’s cooks in 1390 in Middle English.

Here we can find a recipe called ‘Makerouns’, even though, according to what’s written, it looks more like a lasagna-style dish:

“Make a thynne foyle of dowh, and kerue it on pieces, and cast hym on boiling water & seeþ it wele. Take chese and grate it, and butter imelte, cast bynethen and abouven as losyns [lasagna].”

mac and cheese origins

After about 500 years, in 1861, the Victorian cookbookMrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management” was published.

In this cookbook a recipe for Mac and cheese, somehow similar to today’s version, has been found. According to this recipe, Cheshire cheese and breadcrumbs are toasted on top of crooked-shaped pasta more similar to bucatini than macaroni.

Interestingly, Mrs Beeton says that macaroni is her “favorite food of Italy” and “Neapolitans regard it as a staff of life”.

This Neapolitan macaroni and cheese lineage theory was supported by French gourmand writer Alexandre Dumas, who stated that Naples was the official homeland of macaroni and cheese in his “Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine” (1873).

In his book, Dumas claimed that it was Catherine de Medici who spread the dish north while moving from Italy to France in the 1530s, bringing with her several food innovations.

Thomas Jefferson Macaroni and Cheese

It’s a general assumption that mac n cheese has been an American recipe ever since the Kraft company put it in the popular boxed version in 1937.

What few people know is that Thomas Jefferson, after his stay in Italy, brought back to his homeland what we now define the classic American mac and cheese.

Some say Thomas Jefferson had a pasta machine with him and, after his wife’s death, he used it to make pasta himself, topping it with Parmesan, which was later replaced with cheddar.

According to others it was his chef who first served Macaroni and Cheese in 1802 at the White House.

macaroni pasta for mac 'n' cheese

5. Is Mac n Cheese American or Italian? The Conclusions

  • A similar recipe to nowadays mac n cheese was found in old cookbooks both in Italy and in England in the 14th century.
  • Later on, in the 19th century, Thomas Jefferson, or anyone with him, is thought to have brought the recipe to the US and in the following century it started to become a popular food in this continent.
  • Nowadays in some paprts of southern Italy you can find mac n cheese but the recipe is slightly different from the American version.

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