The Secret of Mac And Cheese

What did foodie president Thomas Jefferson start? After discovering a cheesy, rich pasta dish in France. he brought it back in the early 1800s and introduced his dinner guests to a delicious new concoction loaded with rich cream, cheddar cheese and baked to a bubbly, crusty perfection. The latest from France, he undoubtedly proclaimed, along with his other creations including ice cream, french fried potatoes, fine wines and exotic fruits and vegetables, all whipped up at his estate kitchen by his French-trained chef (not to mention at the White House), and Colonial foodies dug in. For Southerners, homemade mac and cheese casserole has always been a staple on holiday dinner tables.

Once commercial production began, Kraft Foods harnessed its great potential by mass-producing and boxing it up for busy mothers and hungry children, putting it on the map during the Depression, in 1937. While many cooks still preferred to make it from scratch, it created quite a stir in packaged foods, right up there with sliced white bread and Toll House cookies. In spite of a former First Lady’s campaign maligning it, boxed mac and cheese is a pantry staple.

No question, it has come a long way, and some of its newest versions are just plain outrageous. Seems each restaurant and chef wants to outdo the others, and while perhaps some (maybe) delicious variations, the new combinations could qualify as just plain bizarre. Here is a list of current popular creations:

Mac and cheese bagels (actually baked into the dough) from Einstein Bros.Bagels

Mac and cheese balls, breaded and deep fried for a new experience in hors d’oeurves (Trader Joe’s are especially good)

Pizza topped with mac and cheese is showing up at several major chains

Hamburgers topped or stuffed with mac and cheese

Mac and Cheese Stuffed Peppers

Mac and Cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Meatball-stuffed sandwich sliders

Mexican foods (quesadillas, burritos and enchiladas) stuffed with M&C

Hot Dogs topped off with M&C (hold the ketchup)

Rich homemade baked M&C casserole with lobster (and a very hefty price)

Mac and cheese topped with white truffles

Of course, driving up the cost and (sometimes) the taste level, any cheese can be used, including Gruyere (Martha Stewart’s favorite which will run you about $30/pound, but hey, it’s Martha Stewart) and blue cheese, which adds an interesting and new taste for this classic dish, rather than traditional cheddar and Velveeta. Maybe a chunk of butter and some sour cream to up the calories.

And at one L.A. restaurant, truffle oil and a splash of white wine is added for the bargain price of $95 per serving (you read that right). Yikes.

In other words, just about anything you can dream up, you can do with your basic mac and cheese, so get creative if the spirit moves you. But for you purists, nothing beats the creamy goodness of macaroni, rich cheddar cheese sauce and buttery crumb topping baked to gooey perfection in the oven. It may be all grown up, but no doubt about it. Some things are better just left alone.