Did Jefferson Invent Macaroni and Cheese?

Rumor has it that Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, could include, among his many other accomplishments, inventing macaroni and cheese (one of my favorite foods). The wikipedia entry for mac and cheese mentions this rumor:
According to more than one urban legend, macaroni and cheese was invented by Thomas Jefferson, who, in the variant told by Alton Brown of Good Eats, upon failing to receive an Italian pasta-making machine, designed his own machine, made the macaroni, and had the cook put liberal quantities of York cheddar and bake it as a casserole.
I don't know how old this rumor is. I found references to it in newspapers from the 1990s, but not earlier. But needless to say, the rumor is incorrect. Jefferson does appear to have served macaroni and cheese at the White House, however he definitely didn't invent the dish.

Jack MacLaughlin sheds some light on Jefferson's relationship to Macaroni in his book Jefferson and Monticello: the biography of a Builder:
Macaroni was a highly fashionable food in late eighteenth-century Paris, and Jefferson not only enjoyed the dish but also commissioned William Short to purchase a machine for making it. The machine was later shipped to America. Jefferson also investigated the manufacture of macaroni during his trip to northern Italy and drew a sketch with detailed notes on the extrusion process. When Short was in Italy, he sampled the local product and concluded that the cooks of Paris made better pasta than he could get at Naples. Apparently, the macaroni machine that Short bought was either not durable or unsatisfactory, for in later years Jefferson imported macaroni and Parmesan cheese from Marseilles for his use at Monticello. While in France, he also copied a recipe for making macaroni ("Nouilly a maccaroni") without a machine. This recipe makes clear that what was eaten as macaroni was what Americans today would term spaghetti — the dough was rolled thin and cut into strips, and each strip was then rolled with the hands into a noodle shape.
So it seems that Jefferson may have served pasta and cheese, but when he did the recipe was already in wide use in Europe. Marlena Spieler, author of Macaroni and Cheese, writes that:
The first written recipe [for macaroni and cheese] seems to be from The Experienced English Housekeeper, by a Mrs. Elizabeth Raffald. Published in 1769, it appears to be the forerunner of our own American classic: bechamel sauce with Cheddar, mixed with macaroni, sprinkled with Parmesan, then baked until bubbly and golden. Another recipe, macaroni a la reine ("Macaroni in the style of the queen"), made from a similar mixture of pasta, cream, and melty cheese (often Gruyere), appeared frequently in British cookery books until relatively recent times.
So there you have it. No one knows exactly who invented mac and cheese, but it wasn't Jefferson, though he seems to have been a fan of it.


Posted on Wed Jun 13, 2007


Macaroni and cheese was invented in 1492 by Christopher Columbus. It so impressed Queen Isabella of Spain that she convinced King Ferdinand to bankroll Colombus' Westward expeditions. When Colombus failed to establish a macaroni and cheese route to the far East, the royal couple was down-hearted, dazed and despondent, and was forced to eat pork rinds instead. Admiral Colombus, however, eschewed pork rinds for onion rings, which were in fact, invented by Thomas Jefferson some 300 years later. True story
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Wed Jun 13, 2007  at  03:55 PM
Mararoni and cheese was invented by Margaret The Maid of Norway so that when she took the throne of Scotland she could use the dish to calm the Highlanders down. Unfortunately when she died the dish was taken by a monk fleeing Edward I (Longshanks) during his tyrany and takne to Rome where the Pope, Benedict XI, required all Italians to make it on a regular basis. Marco Polo took the dish to China but found that the Chinese Emperor had already gotten it from traders from Norway.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Wed Jun 13, 2007  at  08:24 PM
I have never been a big fan of mac n cheese. I mean, I LOVE melted cheese. I really enjoy pasta. You'd think I'd naturally like the two of them together. I don't mind the velveeta shells & cheese mix. That cheese tends to stay gooey for a while. But if I am going to cheese my pasta...I usually do it in the form of an alfredo sauce.
Posted by Maegan  on  Thu Jun 14, 2007  at  08:15 AM
I love velveeta shells and cheese! I haven't had it in a while though. :\
Posted by Sakano  on  Thu Jun 14, 2007  at  04:45 PM
Macaroni and cheese, like fish sticks, are actually a product of the near distant future that were brought back by time travelers to 17th century Europe. In the historic document, Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure, this startling puzzle piece was omitted. No wonder the film was taken as a piece of fiction, with such inacuracy and bad music. Fortunately, the second film had much better music, but it was indeed a work of fiction.
Posted by RevJSH  on  Wed Mar 11, 2009  at  04:55 PM
In Soviet Russia, macaroni and cheese eats you!
Posted by Maurice Del Taco  on  Wed Feb 24, 2010  at  09:37 PM
I don't care who invented it. It's delicious!
Posted by Helen of Salisbury  on  Fri Jul 02, 2010  at  11:31 AM
Macaroni and cheese was actually invented by a Neapolitan futurist named Salvatore Velveeta who died in the year 1482. Despondent over the fact his prediction that soneone would discover the New World and bring tomatoes back to Italy had failed to come to pass, he took it upon himself to create a cheese sauce instead for pasta. He did this because he had correctly guessed one day someone would discover dairy contains L-Tryptophan which acts as a nerve tonic. Sadly, had Salvatore lived just a few more years, Columbus would have made a prophet out of him. Needless to say, the famous supermarket cheese is named in honor of him. True story.
Posted by The Mighty Tig  on  Wed Oct 17, 2012  at  06:03 PM
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