The 14th Century Origins Of Macaroni And Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. Pasta covered in a creamy, cheesy sauce that is velvety smooth just satiates the taste buds. This dinner-time staple is so popular, you would be hard-pressed to find a celebrity chef without their own version. Alton Brown adds spinach to upgrade his stovetop mac and cheese recipe, while Ina Garten uses a combo of Gruyère and cheddar cheese and lets her macaroni soak in the sauce overnight to make her buttery, smooth cheese sauce. 

But where did this pasta dish originate? If you are an American, then you often hear the tale that Thomas Jefferson brought macaroni and cheese to the United States after his travels to Paris; however, the Research and Education Center at Jefferson's Monticello home begs to differ. Jefferson was not the first to acquaint Americans with macaroni and cheese, though it is clear he definitely had an appreciation for pasta. 

But who exactly does deserve credit for inventing the cheesy dish we've all come to crave? There are a couple of potential answers so let's dig in!

It was called Makerouns

BBC Travel says the cookbook "Liber de Coquina," which was printed at the beginning of the 1300s in Naples, may contain the first iteration of pasta and cheese combined in a cookbook. However, it's not truly mac and cheese. According to History Dollop, the recipe calls for sheet noodles cut into squares adorned with a bit of grated cheese, which the site says was probably more like a lasagna. Guinness World Records still gives credit to "Liber de Coquina" and this recipe for "de lasanis" as the original macaroni and cheese even though you probably wouldn't recognize it as such if you saw it today.

A later version of this recipe appears in the English cookbook "Forme of Cury" under the title "makerouns." It was penned in 1390 by the kitchen staff of King Richard II, but it too used slices of thin, lasagna-like noodles. The shapes of these slices aren't specified, according to History Dollop, but they certainly weren't macaroni. Turns out, the hollow tube-shaped pasta had not been invented yet. 

Italians invented more than 1,300 pasta shapes, according to Smithsonian Magazine, but macaroni wasn't one of them, or rather, it wasn't developed in Italy. BBC Travel says Maestro Martino, an Italian living in the Duchy of Milano, Lombardy in the 1400s should get the credit for the first macaroni-shaped pasta. Still, while the inventor may be Italian, at the time, this region was part of Switzerland.

So then what's the answer? Guinness World Records gives credit to the "Liber de Coquina" recipe for combining pasta and cheese, while others stake their claim on the importance of the macaroni shape. In the spirit of the Swiss, we think it might be best to remain neutral on this one.