"Do not let the peasant know how good cheese is with pears" goes the old saying. Intrigued by these words and their portent, Massimo Montanari unravels their origin and utility. Perusing archival cookbooks, agricultural and dietary treatises, literary works, and anthologies of beloved sayings, he finds in the nobility's demanding palates and delicate stomachs a compelling recipe for social conduct.
At first, cheese and its visceral, earthy pleasures were treated as the food of Polyphemus, the uncivilized man-beast. The pear, on the other hand, became the symbol of ephemeral, luxuriant pleasure-an indulgence of the social elite. Joined together, cheese and pears adopted an exclusive savoir faire, especially as the "natural phenomenon" of taste evolved into a cultural attitude. Montanari's delectable history straddles written and oral traditions, economic and social relations, and thrills in the power of mental representation. His ultimate discovery shows that the enduring proverb, so wrapped up in history, operates not only as a repository of shared wisdom but also as a rich locus of social conflict.
A remarkable essay in gastrohermeneutics. Massimo Montanari succinctly unravels a puzzle of a proverb, utilizing a stunning array of primary sources, from medical theory and cookbooks to agronomic and literary texts. Surprising and fascinating discoveries on the social meaning of food are revealed. While reading, a wedge of cheese and sliced pears are highly recommended.
Ken Albala, University of the Pacific, author of The Banquet: Dining in the Great Courts of Late Renaissance Europe
An eloquent and thoroughly researched account of that famous proverb 'do not let the peasant know how good cheese is with pears,' wherein the history and pleasure of the table unite. More than a tribute to this delightful combination, this book is a cultural history that explores social and economic relations fashioned from a seemingly innocent alliance, providing a lens through which to view social conflict.
Pietro Frassica, Princeton University
Cheese, Pears, and History in a Proverb is a fine example of the historian Massimo Montanari's studies of what food means and what purposes it can serve.
a tour de force...
Meryl S. Rosofsky
...succinct and informative...