With over 23 years of experience in the art of cheese making, Afrim Pristine is Canada’s premier cheese expert and owner of the Cheese Boutique.
Afrim is the only Canadian to receive a”Maitre Fromager” title, an honour awarded to those who demonstrate exceptional cheese knowledge and recognized within their community by France-based Guilde Internationale des Fromagers, an exclusive association representing more than 5,000 dairy professionals worldwide. He is among the youngest people in the world to claim this title on his resume.
Including this honour, Afrim was also the youngest Canadian recipient to the “Chevalier,” a distinction from the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Taste Fromage de France (March 2007), following an upgraded status to “Officier du Fromage” in April 2010. He was also awarded a Top 30 Under 30 award in the Food Industry by Ontario Hostelry Institute.
You don’t become one of the world’s most knowledgeable fromagers overnight. From studying with some of the world’s greatest cheesemakers like Luigi Guffanti, Stefano Sarti, Carl Schilt, Jean-Paul Morin, Afrim has also had hands-on training from his father and world’s most renowned dairy farms. Cheese runs in Afrim’s family. The Cheese Boutique, a fromagerie located in the West End, has been a family business for 48 years.
Afrim’s success has grown beyond the four walls of his business. He’s also collaborated with some of Canada’s top chefs and restaurants including Momofuku, Langdon Hall, Canoe, La Palma, Scaramouche and Piano Piano to name a few. He’s worked with chefs such as Michael Bonacini, Mark McEwan, Daniel Boulud, David Chang and Lynn Crawford. We had the chance to catch up with him to learn more about his fascinating life journey with cheese.
Tell us 3 things we don’t know about you.
- I did 5 years of speech therapy at Sick Kids Hospital from the age of 7-12 because I had a bad stutter. I was mocked by my peers because of this for years – it was a tough time in my life. The therapy helped and now I speak in front of large groups of people.
- I despise mayonnaise, I’m actually terrified of it.
- I’m colourblind.
- How did it feel when you received the title of the youngest “Maitre Fromager”?
- It felt pretty amazing that I accomplished this. It was an honour but an even bigger duty. I felt that I needed to prove myself even more and set bigger goals in my career.
- When did you realize you wanted to be exclusively dedicated to the Cheese Boutique and all things CHEESE?
- I was around 18 years old when I realized that I wanted to help my father in the business and give my all to the Cheese Boutique. This business has given me every opportunity in life, so I felt I had to pay it forward and assist my father with growing the business. I love what I do, genuinely.
- What would you tell your 20 year-old-self?
- I would tell myself that I don’t walk on water or cure cancer: I sell cheese and good food and I make people happy. I used to take myself WAY to seriously and could be too intense. I’ve matured over the years by realizing to not get pissed off if we run out of bufala mozzarella. It’s ok, it’s just cheese at the end of the day.
- What’s your favorite cooking secret?
- Use simple ingredients, cook with love and put lemon on everything.
- You have several kinds of cheese names after your dogs, especially Henry; how did this idea come about?
- I like to have fun and I love to combine my passions. I love cheese and I love dogs, so why not bring those both together? Life is too short.
- What is on your ideal charcuterie board?
- 1 hard cheese, 1 goat cheese, 1 creamy cheese, 1 blue cheese, 3 different cured meats, Marcona almonds, crusty bread and pickled vegetables and I’m a happy camper.
- Everything needs to come from the Cheese Boutique as well. I don’t like surprises.
- What is you best recipe for success?
- Strong drive + strong work ethic + surrounding yourself with talent + forward thinking = success
Do you have a wine region or grape you are into these days?
- I love anything from Burgundy (white or red), and also Brunello. I think champagne is overrated.
What are some upcoming exciting projects on the horizon?
- To make the Cheese Boutique the best it can be. I’d also like to work on more off-site caterings, and perhaps a second cookbook. I’d also consider opening up a food bar and cooking studio. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.