Did you know that the concept of macaroni and cheese dates back to 13th-century Naples? I certainly did not, until reading Jeffrey Miller’s ode to the dish over at The Conversation. I also didn’t realize that by the time Chicago cheese salesman James L. Kraft patented his groundbreaking blue-box product in 1937, the nation regarded processed foods as a welcome and sophisticated addition to their everyday lives, whereas “natural” foods were a liability and were apt to spoil—the complete opposite of the weird moral framing that many people put around store-bought foods today.
The importance of meals that freed women from spending an entire day in the kitchen cannot be overstated. With something like Kraft, a matriarch could feed her family on few wartime ration points and spend very little time doing it. These days, a similar customer base has formed: those who might find themselves unemployed due to pandemic-related layoffs—or who simply crave the nostalgia of a childhood staple in an uncertain time—can whip up a bowl of cheesy comforts for next to nothing, and still have plenty of time to do just about anything else. (Miller notes that Kraft Mac & Cheese sales this April saw a 27% increase over the same month last year.) The entire article is worth a read; it published back in May, but its wisdom, just like Kraft, has a long shelf life.
Throughout the years, I’ve made plenty of macs and cheese, ranging from baked versions with a Cheez-It crust to stovetop versions heavy with melted Velveeta. But no version I’ve ever made comes close to the flavors of Kraft, for better or for worse—and if prodded, at least one honest person at the table will admit that Kraft is their preferred version of the dish. Are you all among the Kraft devotees of the world? And if so, which recipes have, at least, come close to encapsulating what you love about that blue cardboard box?