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about the author

 

STEPHANIE ZONIS focuses on good foods and the people who produce them.

 

 

September 2010

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Pastas

Best Macaroni And Cheese

Page 1: Macaroni And Cheese Overview & History

 

CAPSULE REPORT: Intrepid food researcher Stephanie Zonis tested 54 boxed macaroni and cheese mixes from nine companies. After spending weeks eating bowls of mac and cheese, she recommends three standout brands, and shares her thoughts on all the others. For the “winners,” head to Page 6. This is Page 1 of a 5-page article plus 12 pages of reviews of all the products tasted. Click on the black links below to view other pages.

 

Macaroni And Cheese Overview & History

Macaroni and cheese is among the most popular American comfort foods. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t regard this dish with nostalgia—and perhaps some wistfulness—as it invariably conjures up memories of times when life was a little simpler and eating wasn’t fraught with concerns about how many calories or how much fat a food contained.

America’s father of macaroni and cheese was not a chef or even of Italian descent. He was Thomas Jefferson, someone known to enjoy his food. Returning from Europe, he brought the first pasta machine to America and recreated variations of pasta and cheese dishes that had been made in Europe for hundreds of years. Find out more about this classic dish’s origin on our Macaroni And Cheese History article.

Though mac and cheese has roots in this country dating back to 1787, the first boxed macaroni and cheese wasn’t introduced for 150 years. In 1937, Kraft introduced the meal-in-a-box. It was an instant sensation, and has never gone out of favor.

Timing Is Everything

The timing of the product had much to do with its success. Milk and dairy products were rationed during World War II, and meatless meals were considered patriotic. Kraft’s packaged mac and cheese was a hot, simple, meatless mealtime solution that wouldn’t consume a family’s entire ration of milk or butter.

Today, Kraft sells more than one million boxes of its macaroni and cheese dinners daily. No wonder macaroni and cheese seems so all-American! But Kraft now has more than a few competitors. The dinners are shelf-stable for months, quick to make, don’t require many additional ingredients (if any) and are economical. Kids—fussy eaters—love macaroni and cheese. It’s also a snack or meal they can make for themselves, especially with the newer microwaveable cup versions.

My own memories of macaroni and cheese involve my mother’s recipe, a creamy, cheesy concoction made from scratch, topped with bread crumbs and baked until bubbling and browned. But for millions of others, macaroni and cheese means the boxed variety.

I am not normally a consumer of these products, but I decided to try them. While I didn’t expect any to be quite the equal of Mom’s version, I set out to determine if these dinners were palatable for discerning adults. Were they strictly “kid stuff,” or something more? Were they crammed with preservatives and artificial ingredients? Were some significantly better than others?

What Makes A Great Mac And Cheese?

While everyone has his or her own idea of what makes a great macaroni and cheese, there are some generalizations that most would agree on:

  • The pasta shouldn’t be overcooked so that it’s flabby, nor undercooked so that it’s hard to chew or crunchy/starchy.
  • The cheese sauce needs to have some thickness and viscosity, and there should be enough to coat each individual piece of pasta (though not so thick that it will cause the pasta to stick together).
  • The cheese sauce should taste like cheese, with other dairy notes.

Beyond this criterion lies individual preference. However, before you take a fork and dig in, you should know what’s in your mac and cheese. Follow us to Page 2 to find out.

 

Continue To Page 2: What’s In Your Mac And Cheese?

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