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World’s youngest cheese master is from Toronto, has his own Food Network show and a second book in the works


Toronto’s Afrim Pristine is the Youngest Maître Fromager in the World, Sharing his Love of Cheese at the Cheese Boutique and on TV as Host of Cheese: A Love Story

TORONTO, January 30, 2023 – Did you know there’s a cheese cave in Toronto where you can take a cheese and wine tasting tour? Even more unique is that The Cheese Boutique where the cave is located, is run by internationally renowned maître fromager (cheese master) Afrim Pristine; author and host of a Food Network Canada’s Cheese: A Love Story. His job on the TV show? Travelling the world in search of finding the world’s most delicious cheeses! (Nice work if you can get it for sure!)

“Our cheese cave is unique because it was my father’s idea and we built it with two hands as a fully functional, climate-controlled cheese vault,” says Afrim Pristine, whose family has owned the Cheese Boutique since 1970.

“The traditional methods used have been appropriated from thousands of cultural practices of aging cheese in natural caves in Switzerland and France, but since we didn’t have a mountain, we built our own cave. We are proud to be a pioneer retailer in Canada to age our products in-house. A big focus of ours is giving love and care to cheese. We invest in cheese which we age and sell to our clients – years or decades from now. Several of our customers ask us to age a wheel of cheese for them for a special anniversary or occasion. The cave has become such a source of fascination that now we offer two levels of cheese tours of the store and cave with wine and cheese pairings. It’s the best hour and a half you’ll spend in a long time!”said Pristine.

Afrim Pristine, The Cheese Boutique. Photography by Steven Elphick

The Cheese Boutique, Toronto – a brief history

The Cheese Boutique is a cheese-lover’s dream. The gorgeous and expansive 11,000 square foot shop offers over 600 different kinds of cheese (including several vegan options), along with meats, produce, artisan breads and gourmet products.

“In the 1960s my grandparents (Hysen and Stella Pristine) immigrated from Europe with a dream and a suitcase,” says Afrim. “They opened a tiny 500-square-foot mom and pop shop in Bloor West Village with a few cheeses, breads and other things. My family started the business literally to put food on the table and provide for themselves.”

Afrim Pristine, The Cheese Boutique. Photography by Steven Elphick

In 1988 the Pristine family leased the shop next door. Then in 2000, second generation family, Fatos and Modesta Pristine (Afrim’s parents), transitioned a former sausage factory into the Cheese Boutique on Ripley Avenue (their current location). The shop offered a wider selection of cheeses, a meat counter, produce, coffee, specialty jams, truffles and over 15,000 products from around the world.

“After five decades, and four generations, we are far more than just a cheese store,” adds Afrim. “It’s a specialized shop where food is the star of the show. We curate the best of the best. We also do catering, cooking classes, dinners, bachelorette parties and more.”

Afrim (and his three brothers) started helping in the store around the time Afrim was eight years-old. He learned the cheese business from his father and mentor, yet he yearned to know more. “When I hit my 20s I started travelling to places like Holland, England, France and Switzerland and started working on cheese farms and working with cheesemakers and famous chefs.”

How did Afrim become a maître fromager?

In 2013, at the age of 32, Afrim became the world’s youngest maître fromager. Asked how he earned the award and title, Afrim answers: “It’s a lot of hard work and experience and dedication to my craft and a lot of further education over 25 years. This is something I got recognition for. The French are crazy about cheese and this was like a big deal when I got this award, actually 10 years ago this month, in February 2013. Several delegates from the French government came here for a ceremony in Toronto to present me with the award. It was a big knighting ceremony! I learned my craft from my family but working on dairies and learning from chefs and cheese makers that extended that learning and knowledge. Today George Brown and Humber College offer cheese programs, but 25 years ago, these courses didn’t exist. There was no cheese school in my time, so I call it the school of hard knocks!”

Afrim’s status as a distinguished maître fromager caught the attention of publisher Penguin Random House who approached him to write a book about his knowledge of cheese. For the Love of Cheese: Recipes and Wisdom From the Cheese Boutique was published in 2018 and became a national best seller. Along with Afrim’s recipes and advice, the book features 20 recipes from world-renowned chefs including Daniel Boulud, Claudio Aprile and others.

For The Love of Cheese by Afrim Pristine

Afrim is currently working on his second book. “The first book was like Cheese 101. My second book will be a bit more elaborate, richer, and deeper, with a historical and cultural blook on cheese and travel. It’s loosely based on my experiences on my TV show Cheese: A Love Story which airs on Food Network Canada and Hulu in the U.S. Hosting the show is my dream job and I also get to offer input into locations and cheesemakers to interview.” BTW it was my daughter and her partner in Sydney, Australia who told me about Afrim and his TV show—they watch it on a regular basis!

Asked if there is a country that he feels excels at cheese making, Afrim answers: “Yes, France and Italy. I give them a tie for first place. Cheese is such a big part of their culture that dates back many centuries. However, I would put Canada in the Top 10 of cheese makers worldwide. On the show I did three episodes on Canadian cheeses; visiting Quebec, B.C. and Toronto. The cheese scene in Canada is as strong as it has ever been. Cheese awareness is as high as it has ever been. Canada can be very proud of what we’ve accomplished and there’s plenty more to come.”

When Afrim is at home, he’s happily serving customers at his family cheese shop. “We love what we do. I want our customers to be wowed when they walk in, and if you know what you want, or you don’t know what you want, we are ready for either. We sample everything. We want customers to sample 20 blue cheeses before you select one. That’s really what we want and who we are.”

The Cheese Master’s (Afrim Pristine) Top 10 Favourite Cheeses

(In no particular order of preference)

  1. Cave-aged Kaltbach Gruyere from Switzerland
  2. Blue Elizabeth-Quebec
  3. Aged Piave-Italy
  4. Greek Barrel-Aged Feta-Greece
  5. Valencay Goat Cheese-France
  6. Brillat Savarin-France
  7. Zamarano-Spain
  8. Prima Donna-Holland
  9. Pecorino Toscano-Italy
  10. Midnight Moon-United States

A question Afrim is often asked is what cheeses to serve on a charcuterie board.

“You want to look at it like travelling—like a trip around the world to represent a lot of different cultures,” he says. “Firm, aged cheese are what the Dutch do very well. Something Italian could be a nice Parmigiano Reggiano or a Gorgonzola plus a Spanish Manchego and a creamy Brie from France. Then you add a few types of cured meat, olives, fruit and nut crackers, a crusty sourdough baguette, fig jam and maybe some chocolate.”

Afrim Pristine strikes a pose in the cheese cave at The Cheese Boutique. Photography by Steven Elphick

When cheese is served at the end of the meal as a dessert course, Afrim recommends serving a cheese plate with red wine or port and maybe four types of cheeses.

“In France and England, you see this that a lot – cheese served with wine or an after-dinner drink. When served as a dessert course, cheese is not something you eat in abundance. I’m of the opinion that is quality over quantity. I would recommend a firm, aged robust cheese so I would definitely have a blue, and a cow’s milk cheese, something funky and aromatic like brie and finally a goat or sheep’s milk cheese. And something sweet to pair it with like honeycomb or maple syrup perhaps. These are four very different styles with four different flavour profiles. The best part about enjoying cheese is all of the diversity in textures and flavours,” explained Pristine.

When people tell us to “say cheese” we automatically smile. Afrim may hold the unique and distinctive title of the youngest maître fromager in the world, but he admits he is in the business of making people happy. Say cheese!

For more information on the Cheese Boutique visit https://www.cheeseboutique.com/

Watch and stream Food Network Canada’s Cheese: A Love Story on STACKTV and the Global TV App.

Slam-dunk Sandwich features chili-unfused gouda, bacon, avocado, dates and more. excerpted from For the Love of Cheese: Recipes and Wisdom from the Cheese Boutique by Afrim Pristine. Copyright © 2018 Afrim Pristine. Photography © 2018 Steven Elphick. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Afrim’s Slam-Dunk Sandwich Recipe

by Afrim Pristine of The Cheese Boutique

prep 15 minutes

Cook 17–19 minutes

serves 2–4

8 slices strip bacon

8 slices pumpernickel or rye bread 16 thin slices chili-gouda cheese

3 medium-sized ripe avocados 4 pitted dates, finely chopped

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper 4 Tbsp (60 ml) unsalted butter, divided

2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  1. In a small pan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon, flipping occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes or until crispy. Remove from the heat, and place the cooked bacon on a plate lined with paper towel to drain excess fat.
  2. Arrange 4 slices of bread on a work surface. Cover each slice of bread with 2 slices of chili-gouda cheese, but make sure not to let the cheese extend beyond the crust (or else). Divide the bacon evenly among the sandwiches. Peel and thinly slice the avocados. Add the avocado slices and chopped dates to each sandwich, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Top each sandwich with 2 more slices of cheese, and cover with the remaining bread. Press each sandwich down with the palm of your hand.
  3. In a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, warm up

2 tablespoons (30 ml) of the butter and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the oil. Place 2 sandwiches in the skillet, and cook for approximately 3 minutes or until the cheese melts. Flip, and cook the other side for approximately 3 minutes or until golden brown.

  1. Transfer the sandwiches to a plate, and cook the other 2 sandwiches in the remaining butter and oil.
  2. Cut the sandwiches in half before serving.

More recipes to come…

Recipes are excerpted from For the Love of Cheese: Recipes and Wisdom from the Cheese Boutique by Afrim Pristine. Copyright © 2018 Afrim Pristine. Photography © 2018 Steven Elphick. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

by Laurie Wallace-Lynch

Photography by Steven Elphick

Other articles from totimes.ca – otttimes.ca – mtltimes.ca

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