The History of Mac and Cheese

It may sound crazy, but mac ‘n’ cheese actually wasn’t invented here in the dairy state. (Shocker, right?) Truth is, Wisconsin wasn’t even a state when this creamy combo made its way to the land of the free from its humble origins in southern Italy, where recipes from prehistoric times can be found scribbled on cave walls.

Okay, that’s a joke. The cave part, at least. Because it was more like the 13th century, and by then, there were books. And ever since there have been books, there have been people thinking they know everything about cooking—writing cookbooks.

Picture this: you’re in your medieval Tuscan kitchen circa 1348 AD, and all you want is some delicious noodles and cheese. Snatch your copy of the ‘Liber de Coquina’ off the shelf and get cooking. Some fresh, handmade pasta and melty parmesan and—boom! — mac ‘n’ cheese, please.

Those Renaissance-era Italians, amiright? Modern science, art, philosophy—and mac ‘n’ freaking cheese.

(Around the same time, the English recorded a dish called ‘makerouns’. Unfortunately, we couldn’t decipher what “take chese and grate it and butter cast bynethen and above as losyns and serue forth” meant, so we just skipped it.)

So yes, the OG mac ‘n’ cheese came from Italy (because duh) and later jumped ship, blessing the dinner tables of American households everywhere. But how did it find its way across the Atlantic to ultimately inspire one of the best comfort food spots this side of Lake Michigan?

(Yes, we’re talkin’ about MACS.)

America needed a hero, and it needed one bad. That hero? Our third president and author of the Declaration of Independence: the one and only Thomas Jefferson.

Mr. Jefferson—let’s just call him TJ—was truly a man of the world. He was an archeologist, architect, inventor, lawyer, author, and—as we all know—a wine aficionado. Which makes sense, because we all know what pairs well with wine. That’s right, more wine. Well, that and mac and cheese.

So our boy Jefferson made American dreams come true, and brought gooey, cheesy noodles to American soil.

How, you ask? Well, on one of his many excursions to Europe as the ambassador to the French Court, TJ got his first taste of the golden noodle. We don’t mean to be cheesy (okay, we do), but needless to say, it was love at first bite. TJ often dined on this delight during his tour of Northern Italy, and dude loved the taste so much, he eventually brought a pasta maker with him to the new world. Apparently this love of mac ‘n’ cheese was a family affair, because Mary Rudolph, Jefferson’s daughter’s sister-in-law (got that?), is credited with inventing the official dish in her 1824 cookbook ‘The Virginia Housewife’.

Fast-forward a century to the throes of the Great Depression, where Kraft foods introduced that all-American blue box we each grew up with. Then, with World War II, rationing led to macaroni and cheese becoming evermore popular. And why wouldn’t it? The cheesy goodness made a name in households everywhere and to this day continues its legacy as a comfort food hall-of-famer.

Nowadays, there’s more to the madness than just noodles and cheese. Places like MACS are getting crafty with the meal’s versatility and concocting inventive twists to satiate taste buds everywhere. Finally, after 900 years or so of filling bellies across the world, this classic comfort food is rightfully blazing a trail into the world of fast, fresh, comfort food.