In 1802, the third U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson, held a dinner at the White House. On the menu? A new dish he’d discovered while traveling in France—macaroni and cheese! Although it was originally made with expensive cheeses and pastas imported from Europe, mac ’n’ cheese would evolve into an affordable food and a nationwide obsession.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, a crumbling economy left people struggling to feed their families. They needed inexpensive food—and an idea hatched by Grant Leslie, a pasta salesman in St. Louis, Missouri, delivered it. To help sell boxes of noodles, the salesman began bundling them with packets he filled with grated processed cheese made by the Kraft cheese company. Processed cheese contains emulsifiers, chemical additives that prevent fats and oils in the cheese from separating when heated. That creamy cheese sauce became the key to mac ’n’ cheese.
Kraft executives hired the salesman and turned his creation into its now-iconic boxed mac ’n’ cheese. Each package could feed a family of four for just 19 cents— the price per box in 1937. In the first year alone, Americans bought more than 8 million boxes. Today, Kraft sells nearly a million boxes a day! And with so many people dining in during the coronavirus pandemic, recent data shows that Americans have been reaching for this quick, easy comfort food more than ever.