Mac & Cheese and the Pursuit of Happiness

vintage illustration Thomas Jefferson serving spaghetti

Vintage illustration from Budweiser Beer Ad 1948 “Great Contributions to Good Taste” Thomas Jefferson was an enthusiast for macaroni

George Washington may be the father of our country but it is Thomas Jefferson who is often credited with being the father of macaroni and cheese.

No small wonder that the brilliant mind who promised us life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness made it manifest in the creation of the ultimate comfort food.

But it may be a bit an exaggeration.

Though he was a connoisseur of fine food and drink it is doubtful that mac and cheese originated with him. That our third president was an enthusiast of macaroni there is no doubt.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Jefferson fell in love with pasta while traveling in Italy.

In 1784 Thomas Jefferson was called to Paris to replace Benjamin Franklin as the new Republic’s Minister to France. At the time macaroni was a very fashionable food in Paris.

While touring Northern Italy in the spring of 1787 this Yankee doodle dandy  developed an enthusiasm for macaroni or what we now call  spaghetti. Along with purchasing a mould for making macaroni, he had crates of pasta shipped back  to the US.

Frustrated  with the mould, he eventually designed his own macaroni or pasta maker, the plans of which rest in the  The Library of Congress.

Elected President on Feb 17 1801, macaroni was a must at the table at the White House of our third president.

In documents from  the Library of Congress, one guest reports dining on a “pie of macaroni” at the White House, an early version of macaroni and cheese.

Jefferson was most likely not the first to introduce macaroni (with or without cheese) to America  nor did he invent the recipe as it was already in wide use in Europe. He did however popularize it in America by serving it frequently to his dinner guests  during his presidency

We can be sure his mac and cheese was no gloppy Velveeta affair but likely used the  Parmesan cheese  produced in the small village of Rozzano near Milan that he became enamored of.

Great Contributions to Good Taste

vintage illustration Thomas Jefferson serving spaghetti

Vintage Ad Budweiser Beer 1948 “Great Contributions to Good Taste”
What was eaten as macaroni is what we call spaghetti

His well-known love of macaroni was immortalized in a 1948 ad from Budweiser Beer in its campaign of “Great Contributions to Good Taste.”

“Most of us know that Thomas Jefferson expressed Americas idea of freedom by writing the Declaration of Independence but few know that he guided our forefathers to better living by also writing an excellent cookbook,” begins the copy in this ad.

“From Naples he got a mould to form spaghetti and introduced what today is one of our most important and popular foods. He did the marketing for the White House and presided genially over its inviting table. Jefferson earnestly believed that good food and drink temperately enjoyed each day with good friends were essential to a worthwhile lifetime.”

Connoisseur that Jefferson was, it’s doubtful he hoisted a Bud  but preferred fine wines.

His letters from 1803 reveal a purchase of Nebbiola wine- “200 hundred bottles and 3 barrels” were shipped to Monticello along with a request for “50 pounds of Naples Macaroni.”

While in Italy he developed a taste for the Nebbiolo wine of Piedmont. Nebbolio is the grape upon which Italy’s 2 greatest and priciest red wines Barolo and Barbaresco are based.

Before his journey to France in 1784 Jefferson, like most at the time, was a consumer of Madeira and port. While abroad he developed a taste for the lighter wines of France and Italy.

Nebbolia, was a sparkling wine of Piedmont which he described as “about as sweet as the silky madeira, as astringent on the palate as Bordeaux and as brisk as champagne.”

Just right for a dish of mac and cheese!

Copyright (©) 2014 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

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