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Mac 'n' Cheese, Please!

Discover the history and science behind a beloved American food

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As you read, think about how different cultures, events, and discoveries can affect what we eat.

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, held a dinner at the White House in 1802. On the menu? A dish he’d discovered while in France—macaroni and cheese! The earliest mac ’n’ cheese recipes in the U.S. used expensive cheeses and pastas from Europe. Over time, the dish evolved into an affordable food—and a nationwide obsession.

In the 1930s, the U.S. economy crumbled during the Great Depression. Many people lost their jobs. They needed inexpensive food to eat.  

Grant Leslie, a pasta salesman in St. Louis, Missouri, hatched an idea. To help sell boxes of noodles, Leslie began bundling them with packets of grated processed cheese made by the Kraft cheese company. 

Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States. He held a dinner at the White House in 1802. What was on the menu? A dish he’d discovered in France. It was macaroni and cheese! Early mac ’n’ cheese recipes in the U.S. used pricey cheeses and pastas from Europe. But the dish changed over time. It became a less fancy, everyday food for Americans.

The Great Depression happened in the 1930s. Many people in the U.S. lost their jobs. They needed low-cost food to eat. Grant Leslie, a pasta salesman in St. Louis, Missouri, hatched an idea. Leslie wanted to sell more boxes of noodles. So he began bundling the noodles with grated processed cheese. 

Processed cheese contains chemicals called emulsifiers (ih-MUHL-sih-fye-uhrz). These substances prevent fats and oils in the cheese from separating when they’re heated. The mix of oil and fat turns the cheese into a creamy sauce that mac ’n’ cheese is known for today.

Kraft hired Leslie and turned his creation into its now-classic boxed mac ’n’ cheese. In 1937, each package could feed a family of four for just 19 cents. That year, Americans bought more than 8 million boxes.

Today, Kraft sells nearly 1 million boxes a day! And with so many people recently working and attending school from home, Americans have been reaching for this quick comfort food more than ever.

Processed cheese contains chemicals. They are called emulsifiers (ih-MUHL-sih-fye-uhrz). They keep fats and oils in cheese from separating when heated. This creates the creamy mac ’n’ cheese sauce that makes the dish so popular. 

The Kraft cheese company hired Leslie. It turned his creation into boxed mac ’n’ cheese. Kraft started selling the product in 1937. Each package could feed a family of four. And it cost just 19 cents! Americans bought more than 8 million boxes that year.

Today, Kraft sells nearly 1 million boxes a day! Recently, many people have been working and learning from home. So Americans have been reaching for this quick comfort food more than ever.

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