Was macaroni and cheese really one of Beethoven’s favorite foods?

The Eight-Year-Old, lobbying for her favorite dinner: “Mommyo, did you know that mac and cheese was one of Beethoven’s favorite foods?”

Mommyo, dubiously: “Really? Where did you learn that?”

The Eight-Year-Old, confidently: “Schroeder.”

That’s right. Everything my daughter knows about classical music, she learned from this guy:

Schroeder, the piano-playing Beethoven groupie from Charles Schultz's Peanuts comic strip.

Schroeder, the piano-playing Beethoven groupie from Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip.

I am the best mom ever. This is one of the truths I hold to be self-evident. Regardless of what this guy thinks:

Beethovenwith Sig

Speaking of grouchy white men who lived long enough ago to have formal portraits available in the public domain, I just can’t see Beethoven chowing down on Kraft’s Mac and Cheese, or even The Eight-Year-Old’s personal favorite, Annie’s Shells with White Cheddar. Can you?

The Eight-Year-Old: “But it’s true, Mommyo. Just ask Peanuts.”

Ok. First, let’s verify The Eight-Year-Old’s facts.

1) Does Schroeder say that mac and cheese was one of Beethoven’s favorite foods?

Yes. In the January 31, 1967 Peanuts comic strip, Schroeder tells Lucy that the woman he marries (if he marries anyone at all), would have to make excellent macaroni and cheese, because it was Beethoven’s favorite food. The panel was included as part of the online web exhibit, Schulz’s Beethoven: Schroeder’s Muse produced by The Charles Schulz Museum and the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San José State University. You can view the entire strip here.

2) Was Schroeder right?

According to that online Beethoven exhibit, yes. Macaroni was more expensive than rice in those days, so macaroni and cheese didn’t have quite the ready-made food for the masses reputation that it has today.

3) Did Beethoven’s mac and cheese look anything like the mac and cheese our kids eat by the box today?

Not really. According to the website, Fine Dining Lovers, the macaroni and cheese Beethoven’s housekeeper would have served him would have been a simple combination of perfectly cooked macaroni, drained and seasoned with salt, butter, pepper, and Grana Padano cheese.

Ok. What’s Grana Padano cheese?

Grana Padano cheese (Photo: Tamorlan / Creative Commons)

Grana Padano cheese (Photo: Tamorlan / Creative Commons)

According to Cheese.com, Grana Padano cheese is a hard cheese somewhat similar to the more familiar Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan) cheese. Grana Padano was first made by Cisterian monks nearly 900 years ago, and became one of Italy’s most famous cheeses by the late 1400–almost 300 years before Beethoven was born.

Part of its popularity was no doubt due to the fact that Grana Padano keeps extremely well, and can last up to two years without spoiling. As far as flavor goes, Grana Padano is both milder and less crumbly than traditional Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s also less expensive, as Grana Padano is made throughout the entire Po River Valley region of northeastern Italy. Parmigiano-Reggiano is only made in the Italian provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua.*

*The less expensive grated parmesan cheeses you can buy by the bucket in stores are usually imitations. If you want authentic Parmigiano, you’ve got to look for the name Parmigiano-Reggiano, and not just the Americanized parmesan.

The Eight-Year-Old and I are going to make macaroni and cheese Beethoven style over the weekend. We’ll let you know what she thinks.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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