Between pear and cheese is a French expression related to food meaning at the right moment. Here is the origin and history coming from the 17th century, when the French used to eat pears before cheese.
I just love to understand what’s behind dishes and edible idioms so I couldn’t resist going through my books on French gastronomy and French dictionary to learn and share with you the story behind them.
So here is why the French say between pear and cheese, entre la poire et le fromage.
Why have pear before cheese?
The expression dates back to the 17th century, when pears, or desserts, were served after the main courses and before the cheeses.
The order was therefore main dish then pear and finally cheese. Pears were used to lighten the meal.
A bit like what we call in French le trou normand in French, literally translated into the “Norman hole”. Have you ever heard of this?
It’s not a custom often followed anymore. A trou normand is a drink break during a meal with the objective of a palate cleanser between courses and a pause to be able to leave space and enjoy dessert.
It’s called Norman as it’s often Calvados from Normandy. Alcohol is often served with ice cream.
A that time, in the 17th century, meals contained few vegetables and lots of dishes with poultry, meat, and fish. So much protein! At the end of savory dishes, it could be opportune to make room for the rest of the meal.
Juicy pears were served to rinse the mouth pleasantly, to refresh the palate.
This moment when pears were served was a good time for conversation. With a full stomach, discussions were going on lively and tongues wagging.
Wasn’t it the best time to talk and if possible get some confidence? Try to make people talk ad reveal what they would never have said in other circumstances when you lower your guard. The right moment? The opportune moment?
When did the expression appear in France?
The expression first appeared in the 17th century in a book written by Charles Sorel. It was written “… We will talk about it between the pear and the cheese”. The author wanted it to be a good illustration of the ideal moment for end-of-meal talks.
Pears and cheese were delights available and much appreciated at that time. They go well together. An old proverb says “Never did God make a better wedding as matching pear and cheese. This is an approximate translation of the old French “Oncque (jamais) Dieu ne fist tel marriage Comme de poires et de fromage.”
Pear and cheese in French cooking
The French actually like to associate pears and cheeses in preparations. Sweet and savory associations are not very common in French cuisine therefore pear and cheese combination is one of the rare cases. The three main associations I can think of are:
– Pear and blue cheese
That’s the best association you can think of when it comes to bringing cheese and pear together.
French blue cheese can be very strong such as Roquefort (which here contrasts well with the sweetness of pear) to much softer as Fourme d’Ambert.
You can make tarts with pear and blue cheese or using filo or brick make samosas or any shape you’ll like with pears and blue cheese. Adding nuts to this is a staple of French habits too.
– Pear and goat cheese
I don’t have any recipe on the blog for this but when I don’t want to prepare dinner in autumn and when pears are in season, I like to have a tartine (a slice of bread toasted, often sourdough bread or fresh baguette) with fresh goat cheese generously spread, slices of fresh juicy pear, some nuts, and fresh herbs and often other toppings according to inspiration or what I have on hands.
– Pear and Camembert
Pears served with oven-baked camembert (or baked brie as I often see in English)
Do you sometimes associate pear and cheese? I’d love to hear how. I hope you found this article interesting.