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    Cheese, Pears, and History in a Proverb

    By: Massimo Montanari

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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.

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