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Cheese, Pears, and History in a Proverb (Arts & Traditions of the Table


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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.

Table of Contents

Series Editor's Preface by Albert Sonnenfeld Acknowledgments 1. A Proverb to Decipher 2. A Wedding Announcement 3. Peasant Fare 4. When Rustic Food Becomes the Fashion 5. A Hard Road to Ennoblement 6. The Ideology of Difference and Strategies of Appropriation 7. A High-Born Fruit 8. When Desire Conflicts with Health 9. Peasants and Knights 10. To Savor (To Know) / Taste (Good Taste) 11. How a Proverb Is Born 12. "Do Not Share Pears with Your Master": The Proverb as the Site of Class Conflict References Index

About the Author

Massimo Montanari is professor of medieval history and the history of food at the Institute of Paleography and Medieval Studies, University of Bologna. He has authored and coauthored more than a dozen books, including Let the Meatballs Rest: And Other Stories About Food and Culture, Food Is Culture; Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History; Food: A Culinary History; and Famine and Plenty: The History of Food in Europe. Beth Archer Brombert is the author of the widely acclaimed biographies, Edouard Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat and Cristina: Portraits of a Princess. She has also translated extensively from French and Italian.


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. -- Thea Lenarduzzi Times Literary Supplement a tour de force... -- Meryl S. Rosofsky Gastronomica ...succinct and informative... -- Nicholas Terpstra Sixteenth Century Journal

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