What Is Mac and Cheese?

Our favorite cheesy comfort food
Mac and cheese
Maryse Chevriere

Mac and cheese

This comforting pasta dish that we all grew up on is smothered in a cheesy coat that oozes with flavor. Topped with some breadcrumbs for that perfect golden crunch, macaroni and cheese has found a place in countless American homes and stomachs.

This "all-American" comfort food did not entirely originate in the United States. We can thank President Thomas Jefferson for popularizing this classic staple — he brought a version of what we know now as mac and cheese to the colonies after a visit to France. Jefferson returned with a pasta machine (unavailable in the colonies at that time) and served pasta smothered in cheese to his guests during meals. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Meal/Viviane Bauquet Farre)

Later, brands like Kraft encouraged the prevelance of this dish in homes during the Great Depression as one could feed a family of four for only $0.19. Because of rationing during World War II, when dairy was in short supply, Kraft mac and cheese became a go-to for the American housewife.

But what makes up this cheesy casserole-like dish? In this case, the name says it all: macaroni and cheese. Macaroni is a dry pasta made from semolina flour and water. Although we commonly view macaroni as "elbow pasta," several varieties of pasta fall in the macaroni family — including penne, rigatoni, and ziti. All of these common pasta shapes can fit perfectly into the cheesy dish as the little tubes are perfect hiding spots for bits of gooey cheese sauce.

Click here for tips on making the perfect mac and cheese.           

Next up is the cheese. Although it's classically made with Cheddar, today, chefs and home cooks alike put their own twists on the classic by blending cheeses. Whether it’s Gruyère, mozzarella, or goat, a mix of cheese adds a new dimension to this cozy staple. Yet, this dish wouldn’t be complete without its binders — butter and cream.  These two components bring everything together by creating the perfect creamy coating.

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As a side dish or an entrée, mac and cheese is guaranteed to bring out your inner child. With cheese, pasta, and coating of breadcrumbs on top, it’s a dish that can only make you smile.