There is something about Kraft Mac & Cheese. It's its own thing, which has little to do with real mac and cheese, and yet is so important and nostalgic for so many of us. We get wistful. We get sheepish when we admit to occasionally still making it for ourselves now and again. I have friends who actually bemoaned it when their kids got older and had enough appetite to finish their servings of Kraft, not leaving those extra few spoonfuls for their parents.
I was probably in my teens before I tasted a true homemade mac and cheese. And while I love to make mac and cheese myself, with really good pasta and sauce full of cream and real cheese, there will always be a place in my heart for that blue box of Kraft. At least once a year I get a deep craving that nothing else will assuage.
In high school, on summer teen camping trips with tight food budgets, there were huge pots of Kraft Mac & Cheese, often boosted with cut-up hotdogs or chunks of cheap ham. In college, I learned how to make it in an electric kettle in my dorm room, with milk and butter pats pilfered from the dining room. My first husband liked it with canned tuna and frozen peas mixed in. It’s not exactly why I divorced him, but it isn’t not why. I like it hot and creamy right out of the pan, and congealed and cold out of the fridge, and even out of the microwave where all the sauce gets weirdly absorbed into the noodles and kind of disappears, but the ghost of the flavor is left behind.
But while I have made it over the years with the margarine and skim milk of my childhood in the '70s, to European butter and whole milk of my gourmet adulthood, I never gave much thought to what was in the packet of orange powder that is the source of over 40 years of pleasure.
Turns out, it is mostly milk products and byproducts like whey and milk protein and cheese culture, milkfat and lactic acid. Kraft has recently started taking out the more chemical-based ingredients like artificial dyes and flavors. There is also plenty of salt in there, but to be honest, nothing really super-scary or unexpected for a processed food. A box of Kraft Mac & Cheese is many things: It is a carb bomb, a salt lick, and a fat bucket. It is also freaking delicious. So while it probably shouldn’t be an everyday choice, I’m not taking it out of rotation anytime soon.