The cheesiest post yet


At a time when upscale mac 'n' cheese is one of the trendiest foods around, guest poster Owl Meat brings us back to earth with his insightful examination of the original version. EL

Don't hurry, puff and wheeze, there's a main dish that's a breeze.
– World War II era radio ad

Times may be tough now, but 1937 was a real downer.  The Hindenburg went kaboom; Amelia Earhart lost her luggage; and my great-grandfather hauled a wheelbarrow full of money to the Bergdorfschneider to buy a cardboard belt. 

In these dark times perched upon the brink of the abyss, it would take the ingenuity of a young country with lofty ideals and a robust belief in the transformative power of technology to lead the world into a new era. 

That country was the United States of America, and the clarion blast of hope for the future came in a box – Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. ...

During World War II, sales soared by a factor of ten when the supply of dairy products and meat was rationed.  Luckily German scientists didn't perfect Wienerschnitzel in a Box before the end of the war.

When introduced, it was simply Kraft Dinner and was meant to feed a family of four.  Although it is "the cheesiest," a box provides only 90 percent of the RDA of sodium. 

The variations are legion: Original, Spirals, Shells, Pokemon, Scooby Doo, Spiderman, SpongeBob, Thick 'n Creamy, Three Cheese (LOL), Velveeta, etc.  There is Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Topping (for popcorn) and six kinds of Kraft Mac & Sneeze crackers.  Despite its seven-decade domination, selling two million boxes a day, Kraft bombards us with ads including this unfortunate one.

Thomas Jefferson promoted a primitive version (macaroni and non-powdered cheese) by bringing a macaroni machine back from Europe, inventing a better one, and serving the dish at the White House in 1802.  Whatever.  This is an icon of American food in its primitive natural form and in the Nazi-killing rattling box of freedom version. 

In college I wrote a short story about a student in a writing class who was so aggravated with the boring people in his class that he fantasizes about murdering them.  While they didn't object to the fictional violence against themselves, they did take issue with a character in the story doing violence against a sacred American icon -- mac 'n cheese.
The objection: Who would make macaroni and cheese with hot dogs and hot sauce?

That's college gourmet.  I was so broke in college that I rarely had milk or butter, so I substituted water and olive oil, settling for store brand or ... worse.  I continued to buy the cheapest version and make it college style until recently, when I gave myself permission to get my cheez on properly. 
In Panama there were bright yellow 55 gallon drums scattered around Panama City with QUESO stamped in black letters on them.  I don't know what their purpose was, but I think it's somehow related to today's topic. 
So now I'm an adult with varied and refined tastes.  Thus I ask the question – what wine goes with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese? 

I assembled a symposium to explore the question.  I invited gal pals Kiki, Kimmer and her roommate Katya (just to round out the hard consonants) to the Owl's Nest for wine and cheez.  Kiki brought her dog Monkey and some wine.  Kimmer was late, but brought a nice Cava and some Lithuanian hip hop CDs.  Katya brought her charming Russian accent and the wide-eyed wonderment of what iz dees mackencheez? 

We tested a Montepulciano, Rioja, Pinot Noir, Côtes du Rhône and a Cabernet blend that Kimmer's neighbor makes in his basement.  After many tastings the unclear winner was the Montepulciano. 

Thai Extra Pedas Sambal sauce was the best condiment, beating ketchup, sriracha, Tabasco, sweet chili sauce and salsa.   In the end it degenerated into an exercise in entropy with Katya busting out a bottle of unlabelled Russian vodka with mysterious herbs in it.  She introduced us to a drinking game possibly called tajinki that involved dice, a fork and questionable judgment.  
In my experience people have specific preferences and rituals involving the blue box of surreally colored vaguely futuristic comfort food.  Some use a fork, some a spoon.  Some like it soupy and others gluey.  I clearly have no respect for the instructions and dabble with any number of spices and condiments.  The weirdest version that I heard about was with cinnamon and sugar.  Oh, the humanity.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

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