Read This Before Bringing Mac And Cheese To A Southern Christmas Dinner

Much like the Thanksgiving gathering a month prior, the annual Christmas dinner can be a memorable get-together with those you hold dear, or an awkward few hours spent with almost total strangers that you're not even sure you're actually related to. Embarrassing moments aside, the second most important thing at Christmas dinner is, of course, the food. A picture-perfect honey-glazed ham or a tray of roast turkey swimming in gravy is a surefire way to help break the ice between you and those weird family members. For those who spend Christmas down in the southern parts of the United States, you'd probably agree the food at Christmas dinner is especially something the whole family can look forward to.

With a complex culinary history combining West African, European, and Native American practices and skills honed from working the land (via Due South), the Southern regions of the United States take their food very seriously. From properly working biscuit dough to fried chicken, there are a lot of rules to be followed if you want to get that classic Southern taste — even when it comes to the macaroni and cheese

No, we aren't talking about Kraft, with that radioactive neon orange powder. We're talking about creamy, hot, extra cheesy pasta with a bubbling golden-brown top. But before you decide to surprise your Southern neighbors at Christmas dinner with your own take on the classic casserole, it's probably for the best that you first read up on proper mac & cheese etiquette ... or else that pleasant Christmas dinner may turn into something rather unpleasant. 

You have to earn the honor of bringing mac and cheese

Wait — earn your honor? To bring macaroni and cheese? It may sound admittedly strange at first, but for many Southern families, the mastering of macaroni and cheese is a rite of passage, not something to be treated carelessly. 

According to Southern Living, one person is allowed to bring the macaroni and cheese per year, and that person is usually someone like the mother, an aunt, or the grandmother. If someone outside the family — such as an eldest child's new significant other — were to bring a macaroni dish to dinner, it would be frowned upon. Not because they are new, or the family doesn't trust them, but rather, because tradition says that the dish is best left to someone who has shown their skills in preparing macaroni and cheese.

As detailed by Food and Wine's Nikki Miller-Ka, there are specific properties that set a Southern-style macaroni and cheese apart from the average boxed stuff in your cabinet. Macaroni is the standard pasta of choice, obviously, and it's best to use a blend of semi-soft and hard cheeses with a dash of mustard powder to give the dish a variety of different flavors. She also recommends avoiding any toppings such as breadcrumbs that can absorb the moisture from the pasta and make the dish dry. Her own recipe, for example, calls to use a base of milk and eggs to give the macaroni and cheese that firm, casserole-style appearance.

The big lesson here? The next time you want to bring a certain dish over to your Southern neighbor, or your Southern partner's family, it's best to ask first.