“It’s my lifelong goal to do nothing but wave the flag of good cheese,” says Afrim Pristine. His passion for fromage is founded in his family history—after emigrating from Albania, Afrim’s father, Fatos, and his grandparents made a living selling artisan cheeses in a small Toronto shop that later became the Cheese Boutique. When the store first opened in 1970, Fatos would drive five hours to Montreal to buy imported cheeses. Over time he grew the operation, gained hands-on knowledge, and began attracting regular customers.
Fatos is now retired, and Afrim—along with his brother, Agim, and sister-in-law, Sophia—continue the family business. The Cheese Boutique, today more than 10 times its original size, provides knowledgeable service and a cheese counter featuring wedges from over 500 different makers. The shop also boasts three cheese caves, one of which is open for tours, and a cheese lab where Afrim can be found soaking Beemster in root beer, infusing blue wheels with rum, and coating curds in chocolate. “We aren’t arrogant about cheese,” says Afrim. “We are lovers of it.”
culture: What sparked your passion for cheese?
Afrim Pristine: It really gave me everything. My mother says that instead of a pacifier, they would put a piece of Parmigiano Reggiano in my mouth, and I would just gnaw on that. I was kind of destined to do this.
culture: What’s your favorite cheesy dish?
AP: That’s kind of like asking someone with 15 kids, who’s your favorite? I have 500 kids, if you consider all my cheeses kids. I think that potatoes and cheese is such a no-brainer, something like potatoes aligot.
culture: Do you have a favorite wedge or wheel?
AP: I think the most important cheese in the world is Parmigiano Reggiano. I’m not saying it’s the best, but I think it’s the most important. It’s an awesome cheese.
culture: What are some odd pairings you’ve tried?
AP: I love maple. I mean, I’m Canadian, right? Maple and blue cheese are amazing together, like amazing amazing. Just a little drizzle of maple syrup on a bold, salty blue is so good.
culture: Can cheese bring people together?
AP: Some of the most important decisions in history were made around a big table with wine and cheese. I think cheese is an incredibly social thing. Fondue is huge for us, and that is as social as it gets. Cheese is a comfortable food that I think all people enjoy. It’s easy to eat. It’s fun.
Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–7 p.m.
Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–6 p.m.
Feature Photo Credit: Ivan Otis