Entre la poire et le fromage and more French cheese phrases

A French cheese factory won nine medals at this year’s World Cheese Awards. We look at expressions related to cheese

1 December 2021

Learn French words and expressions you may hear in the news today Pic: The Connexion

A French cheese factory won nine medals at this year’s World Cheese Awards, nicknamed the ‘Oscars’ of the cheese world.

Cheese factory Onetik was awarded three gold, four silver and two bronze medals at the International Cheese Festival in Oviedo, Spain in November.

The factory, based in Macaye, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, specialises in cheeses from the Basque Country.

Each year, cheeses are sent from across the world to be judged in one day by teams of technical experts, food writers, buyers and retailers.

Judges allocate awards based on cheese taste, colour, consistency and presentation.

We look at three French expressions related to cheese:

Entre la poire et le fromage (literally ‘between the pear and the cheese’):

This expression refers to a free moment between two events.

In the 17th century it was customary to eat a piece of fruit, often a pear, before eating cheese, which finished the meal. The expression therefore initially meant ‘towards the end of the meal’ and connoted relaxation and contentment.

Over time, the meaning expanded to refer to a moment of relaxation between any two situations.

Se retirer dans le fromage (literally ‘to retreat into the cheese’):

In this expression, the cheese represents something lucrative that requires little effort, typically an easy job that pays well.

It comes from writer Jean de La Fontaine’s 19th-century fable Le Rat qui s’est retiré du monde (The Rat Who Retired From the World), in which a rat retires into some Dutch cheese in order to get away from the world and refuses to help those around him.

Laisser le chat aller au fromage (literally ‘to let the cat go to the cheese’):

This expression dates to the 16th century and traditionally refers to a woman that gives in to sexual temptation before marriage. It is not very common nowadays but you may still hear the older generation use it.

Cheese has long represented temptation, such as in Jean de La Fontaine’s famous fable Le Corbeau et Le Renard (The Crow and The Fox), in which a fox flatters a crow so that it drops its cheese, which the fox then eats.

The cat, on the other hand, represents the female. A cat going to the cheese therefore refers to a woman giving in to her desires.

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