PROVERBS AND SAYINGS
Like lots of other agricultural produce, the pear is the subject of dozens of mottos, proverbs and expressions, particularly in the regions where they have been traditionally grown, particularly central Italy.
People say, for example, “to fall like a pear”. It is not known however whether this unstable balance is a result of the pear’s typical shape or the fact that ripe pears often fall from trees.
On this topic, the wonderful humorist Marcello Marchesi came up with this great wisecrack: “Noises that we don’t have in the city: the “wham” of a pear that falls, and the “blimey!” of the farmer that it hits”.
All over Italy, on the other hand, people say “to fall in love like a (cooked) pear”. And here too the connection is made with gravity, or lack thereof, that exists when someone falls head over heels in love, like a ripe pear falling from a tree.
Some Tuscan proverbs from the country place the pear on the dining table (Cheese, bread and pears, a meal fit for a knight) and bestow upon it a certain nobility or value (A peasant will sell the farm to eat cheese, bread and pears).
But the most famous pear proverb is surely “Never let a peasant know how good cheese with pears are”.
Various scholars have pondered on the meaning and origins of this saying, even organising public conferences and debates (with tasting sessions including cheese and pears, of course), as well as penning books on the topic.
It now seems sure that the proverb has French origins from the 13th century: “Oncques Deus ne fist tel mariage comme de poire et de fromage”, “God never made a better marriage than that of pears and cheese”.
Usually, cheese and pears can be found together at the end of a meal.
Even Petrarch wrote “Farewell, it is evening. Now come pears, cheese and wine from Crete”.
However, cheese was seen as a poor, commonplace food, one of the cheapest sources of protein for country folk. And when, around the 16th century, cheese started to arrive on the tables of the upper classes, its prestige was raised by pairing it with a noble luxury item, the pear. Pears were in fact generally reserved to the lords who owned land where peasants could only grow them, and not eat them. And so, the farm workers could not experience the exquisite pairing of pears with cheese.
It is one of the rare cases in which a proverb about food does not talk about its use or how it is eaten, but of who can or cannot eat it. It is a proverb that, behind its apparent cordiality, conceals a vicious social mockery of poor peasants, who were actually (to some extent) the reason behind the delicious gastronomic pairing of cheese and pears.