Here’s a crazy fact for you. The origins of Macaroni Cheese date back over 750 years. Yes, when here in Britain people were living in wooden huts, having sword fights and setting up parliament, out in sun-drenched Italy, life was a little bit more relaxed.
The first mention of the cheesy, saucy, pasta casserole dish we know and love today was in a cookery book – Liber de coquina, written in Latin by someone familiar with the Neapolitan court then under the sphere of Charles II of Anjou (1248-1309). It’s one of the oldest medieval cookbooks and features a dish of parmesan and pasta.
Us brits weren’t far behind though and later in the 14th century, a cheese and pasta casserole known as makerouns was recorded in the famous medieval English cookbook, the Forme of Cury. It was made with fresh, hand-cut pasta which was sandwiched between a mixture of melted butter and cheese. The recipe given (in Middle English) was “Take and make a thynne foyle of dowh. and kerve it on peces, and cast hem on boillyng water & seeþ it wele. take chese and grate it and butter cast bynethen and above as losyns. and serue forth.” (“Make a thin foil of dough and cut it in pieces. Put them in boiling in water and seethe them well. Grate cheese and add it with butter beneath and above as with losyns [a dish similar to lasagne], and serve.”)
The first modern recipe for the dish was included in cookery writer Elizabeth Raffald’s 1770 book, The Experienced English Housekeeper. Raffald’s recipe is for a Béchamel sauce with cheddar cheese—a Mornay sauce in French cooking—which is mixed with macaroni, sprinkled with Parmesan, and baked until bubbly and golden. The famous British Victorian cookbook Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management included two recipes for the dish. One recipe states that “The macaroni, (which should be “tender but perfectly firm, no part being allowed to melt, and the form entirely preserved” – lest one be tempted to cook it for so long it actually disintegrated) is then topped with more cheese, pepper and breadcrumbs, before receiving a final dose of melted butter for good measure and being placed before a “bright fire” to brown the crumbs, or grilled with a salamander broiler.
Today there are hundreds of variations of the dish and of course we have our own fantastic version here at Mercer and Co. so why not pop in today and give it a try. You’ll appreciate it so much more now you know it’s been 750 years in the making.