Simply put, macaroni & cheese and is a staple in the Black community. The politics of who’s making the beloved side dish, who’s technique and ingredients are the best and whether or not you’ll be able to take a plate home, are only a few of the negotiations that come to mind when mac & cheese is involved.
According to the BBC, the dish’s origins date all the way back to the 14th century in Europe, with the earliest recorded version of pasta (surprisingly the lasagna variety) and cheese cooked together being found in a cookbook called Liber de Coquina, and the dish being named “de lasanis.” While it was a far cry from the mac & cheese we’ve come to know, love and crave, the dish was born.
Regarding its popularity in America, Thomas Jefferson is often credited. In addition to bringing a pasta-making machine to The States, Huffington Post explained that he was the one to request that it be prepared at a presidential state dinner in 1802.
Notably, it was Jefferson’s chef, an enslaved man named James Harding, who prepared the dish that night and who Kraft mimicked their box version after in 1937.
As many may know — particularly Black households — mac & cheese has evolved from the processed powdered cheese and tiny elbows that are often made due to accessibility, affordability and convenience. In Black homes — depending on who has the most favored recipe in the family — the side dish might be comprised of a béchamel sauce, a tried and tested combination of cheeses, a breaded topping and elbow macaroni.
Essentially, we like our mac & cheese done a specific way. The small variations that each grandma, auntie, mother (or dad who throws down in the kitchen) add are what exactly makes the dish special in Black households and the community at large.
Chef Joel Mays III spoke the way Black people have crafted Macaroni & Cheese in HuffPost and pretty much said it all:
Mac and cheese is not in a box, it’s not a block of cheese. It’s not in a can or microwaveable. That’s not ideal. You have to take steps to make a cheese sauce, a roux, and spray your pan so the pasta does not stick. You have to bake the mac and cheese or sauté it with the cheese sauce and add fresher shaved cheese at the end. Those cooking methods are preferred when it comes to this dish.
Macaroni and cheese should look like a bed of cheese hills and valleys covering the pasta, surrounded with the crispy edges from the pan. It always needs pepper, salt and garlic, the three spices that are the base of everything in this amazing cheesy concoction. Cheeses need to include cheddar, mozzarella, colby jack and for heat, pepper jack … or havarti cheese for a little sweet note that tickles your tongue and makes you go back for seconds.
With July 14 being recognized as National Mac & Cheese Day, MADAMENOIRE shares some of the best and worst mac & cheese moments we’ve come across.
Best: Patti LaBelle’s Mac And Cheese
Of course, Patti LaBelle’s iconic Mac & Cheese had to go on this list. In addition to the simple fact that it’s a recipe many swear by, it’s hard for one to go wrong when they follow the legendary singer’s steps for the perfect mac & cheese.
If you didn’t know, LaBelle’s recipe is so popular that it’s even sold in the frozen section of Walmarts across the country.