We all have an image in our mind's eye of what the perfect bowl of macaroni and cheese should look and taste like. For some it's a four-cheese mix in a casserole, maybe with some bacon mixed in and topped with a crumbly crust served by a favorite comfort food spot. For others it's oozy Velveeta shells and cheese. But for many of us, our first introduction to mac and cheese is the one that we remember, and it comes from a box containing elbow macaroni and a packet of powdered cheese. In order to settle the age-old question of which brand's boxed mac and cheese is best, we put eight to the test, and one came out on top.
The earliest modern recipe for macaroni and cheese appeared in Elizabeth Raffald's 1769 book The Experienced French Housekeeper. In it, she mixes béchamel sauce with Cheddar cheese, stirs in macaroni, sprinkles Parmesan on top, and bakes it. Most restaurants still prepare the dish this way, usually adding their own unique cheese blend to the base béchamel, which is essentially a roux combined with cream.
For our purposes, the macaroni and cheese was prepared just a little differently. We stuck with the brands that adhere to the powdered mix style Kraft first introduced in 1937, and went with the 'original' flavor. We prepared each box using the specified instructions, adding the required amounts of butter and milk. Interestingly, Kraft's offering, with 2 percent milk and half a stick of butter, called for more fat than just about any other brand tested. Perhaps a secret to its success?
Our panel of tasters tried each brand blind, and judged each on the following: appearance, smell, creaminess, saltiness, cheese flavor, and whether it hits that magical, comforting spot that only a hearty bowl of perfect macaroni and cheese can.
In the end, it was clear that no two brands of macaroni and cheese are exactly alike, and brands we thought would be clear winners didn't always come out on top. We also added in the price per box as well as nutrition info for one serving of the finished product.
-Dan Myers, The Daily Meal
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