Cheese, Pears, and History in a Proverb (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)
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"Do not let the peasant know how good cheese is with pears" goes the extremely well known yet hard to decipher saying. Intrigued by this proverb, which has endured since the Middle Ages, Massimo Montanari launches an adventurous history of its origins and utility.
Perusing archival cookbooks, agricultural and dietary treatises, literary works, and anthologies of beloved proverbs, Montanari finds in the nobility's demanding palettes and delicate stomachs a deep love of cheese with pears from medieval times onward. At first, cheese and its visceral, earthy pleasures was treated as the food of Polyphemus, the uncivilized man-beast. The pear, on the other hand, became the symbol of ephemeral, luxuriant pleasure& mdash;the indulgence of the social elite. Joined together, cheese and pears embodied an exclusive savoir faire, especially as the notion of taste as a natural phenomenon evolved into a cultural attitude. Montanari's delectable history straddles the line between written and oral tradition, between economic and social relations, and it thrills in the vivid power of mental representation. He ultimately discovers that the ambiguous proverb, so wrapped up in history, is not a repository of shared wisdom but a rich locus of social conflict.
fruit year after year for a longer period, from May to November. Pears can also be dried and stored, but, as might be expected, such practices automatically rob the product of its social prestige, transforming its use and image into a function of peasant foresight, and ultimately of hunger. During the famine that befell Italy in 1338, “people ate pears dried and ground and mixed with flour.” We are informed of this by an anonymous Roman chronicler of the time. Two centuries later, an
characteristic of the urban middle class, above all the commercial activities and in some cases the professional as well. Already then, the literature of the period had inveighed against the truculence of the parvenu. The verses of an anonymous Genoese writer of the thirteenth century, dedicated to “the peasant ascended to prosperity,” declared that there is nothing worse than “the peasant of low estate/who rises to great affluence,” denaturing himself and filling himself with pride and
is very precisely evoked by Michelangelo Buonarotti when, in one of his poems, he described the moment at table when “venner le frutte, il formaggio e ’l finocchio / le pere cotte con qualche sfogliata / poi quivi stetter lungamente a crocchio / a ragionar” (there came fruit, cheese, fennel / cooked pears with some pastry / then everybody lingered to munch / to converse). Beyond occasional contexts, it is above all the gastronomic pairing of cheese and pears that took hold in Italy with a
and pairing Gatti, Alessandro gifts: cheese as; fruit as Ginzburg, Carlo Giorgetti, Giorgio Giusti, Giuseppe Gonzaga, Barbara good taste. See also taste Grazzini, Anton Francesco Grieco, Allen habituation Hauser, A. health Herodotus Hildegard of Bingen Hippocrates hippomolgói humanists humors, cardinal ignorance. See also learning In Praise of Cheese (Elogio de caseo) (Beccadelli) instincts Instructions for Gardeners (Quintine) Issac Kitab al Agdiya knights.
“certain trees that are called pear but do not bear pears like those in Spain. They are rather wild trees on which huge fruits the color and shape of true pears grow.” At that point he stops to remark, “with cheese these pears are very good.” This observation, extraneous to the phenomenon being described, is for that very reason revealing of a custom the author apparently knew well. I would not hesitate to believe that this comes from his long familiarity with Italy, where he had close relations