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Macaroni and cheese is the quintessential American comfort food, but it has a long history before becoming the sad, yet incredibly crave-able boxed dinner. As much as I love boxed mac and cheese, because what truly American child doesn’t, I would be remiss not to share with you where its true origins lie. Macaroni and cheese makes its first appearance in the 14th century in both Italian and Medieval English cookbooks, with recipes that basically consist of handmade pasta layered up with butter and cheese and baked. In 1796, the first modern recipe for mac and cheese appears in a cookbook by a woman named Elizabeth Raffald. It’s the first time a mac and cheese recipe begins with a cream sauce, what the French call a Bechamel, laced with cheese, making it what the French call a Mornay.

Macaroni and cheese became the American staple and comfort food that it is through President Thomas Jefferson. He experienced the dish in Europe and made extensive notes. The first pasta extruder that formed and cut macaroni noodles in the US was designed by Jefferson and installed in his home at Monticello. In 1802, he served mac and cheese at a state dinner. Can you imagine? At one point in time, it was totally acceptable to serve a dish so simple as macaroni and cheese to foreign dignitaries?

In the US, the dish has 2 real forms: baked and stove top. Baked mac and cheeses are more dense and usually have some form of bread crumb or Parmesan cheese type crust. Stove top versions, like my recipe, are more creamy, rich and decadent. Although my recipe has a number of ingredients, it involves fairly few steps to prepare and can be made within the time it takes for the noodles to boil. Below, you can find the full how-to YouTube video and the recipe. If you haven’t already subscribed to the Renaissance Beard YouTube channel please do so. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb elbow macaroni, I use Italian Cavatapi

8 oz sharp yellow cheddar

8 oz aged whited cheddar

8 oz Gruyere cheese

1 stick unsalted butter

1/2 cup flour

1 Tb mustard powder

1 Tb garlic powder

1 Tb onion powder

1/2 tsp cayenne

4 cups whole milk

Note: In the video I use about 1/2 of a pound of cubed ham and a large bunch of scallions. These are just examples of ways to doctor up a standard mac and cheese. Also the amount of cayenne can be cut or ignored completely for the heat challenged.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt the water with a few teaspoons of salt, and add in the pasta. Stir the pasta to ensure nothing sticks and boil the pasta to package instructions, usually 8 to 10 minutes. While the pasta is boiling, bring a large sauce pan up to medium heat. Add the butter to the pan and allow it to melt. When the butter is melted add in the flour and dry seasonings. Cook the flour and seasonings for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously. This cooks the raw flour taste out and wakens up the flavor of the spices. Next, add in the milk, stirring vigorously, and cook until it has reached a gravy like consistency with no lumps. At this point you should have a nice smooth off-white sauce. Turn the sauce down to low, stir in the cheeses, and stir until you have a nice smooth cheese sauce.

Drain the fully cooked noodles and add them into the cheese sauce. Stir to combine. Add any extra ingredients you might enjoy, like the ham and scallions I used. Just make sure that whatever you add is fully cooked. Serve hot and enjoy!

If you have any questions or have anything that you’d like featured in a future post on The Renaissance Beard, don’t hesitate to contact me or leave it in the comments.

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