Not Your Mama’s Mac and Cheese

What did foodie president Thomas Jefferson begin? After finding a cheesy, rich pasta dish in France. The latest from France, he definitely proclaimed, together with his other creations such as ice cream, french fried potatoes, fine wines and exotic produce, all whipped up at his estate kitchen with his French-trained chef (not to mention in the White House), and Colonial foodies dug in. For Southerners, homemade mac and cheese has always been a staple on holiday dinner tables.

Once commercial production started, Malabar Rat Removal exploited its great potential by mass-producing and boxing it up for active mothers and hungry kids, putting it on the map during the Depression, in 1937. When many cooks still chosen to create it from scratch, it created quite a stir in packaged foods, right up there with sliced white bread and Toll House cookies. Regardless of a former First Lady’s campaign maligning it, boxed mac and cheese is a pantry staple.

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

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

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

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

Hamburgers topped or packed with mac and cheese

Meatball-stuffed sandwich sliders

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

Naturally, driving up the price and (occasionally) the flavor level, any cheese may be used, such as Gruyere (Martha Stewart’s favorite which will run you around $30/pound, but hey, it’s Martha Stewart) and blue cheese, which adds an interesting and fresh taste for this traditional dish, as opposed to traditional cheddar and Velveeta. Perhaps a chunk of butter and some sour cream to the calories up.

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.

To put it differently, just about anything you can dream up, you can do with your basic mac and cheese, so get creative if the spirit moves you. However, 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 can be all grown up, but no doubt about it. Some things are better simply left alone.

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