My job as an affineur [someone who ages cheese] is to age it, to maintain it, give it love and care, so that that evolution keeps going. And why do we do all of this? To give the customer the best product possible. Cheese needs time – like wine – to evolve to get better… A full wheel of cheese can (technically) age for 4,000 years. It needs time to change, to evolve to knock your socks off in terms of flavour. It’s a respect thing too, for the cheesemakers [and their product] too. Just like when you take the cork out of a bottle of wine, or when you cut the cheese, the aging process stops.
– Afrim Pristine, co-owner and Maître Fromager (only one of six in Canada) of the illustrious Cheese Boutique in Toronto. The gourmet food shop is a haven for any food lover, carrying the best of the best, prime and hard to source quality goods from around the world. It also houses 500+ types of cheeses, all at various stages of age. The cheese cave shown above is only 10% of the store’s products.
Published: February 11, 2015
For TorontoLife.com: Whey cool: inside Cheese Boutique’s jam-packed, million-dollar cheese vault
Spending an hour (or two) with Pristine in his fully stocked cheese cave was pretty incredible (clarification: it’s always fully stocked. This is a hording problem I’d like to have, but it’s more for product display than anything else). Not only educational, but full of surprises. This 300 square-foot space is also home to the world’s oldest wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano (Pristine calls it the Mona Lisa) that’s proudly on display on its designated shelf (it belongs to Via Allegro); one of the world’s largest provolones (a 10-ft, 400kg beast for Real Sports); and a host of other unique, and “extra large” one offs crafted just for The Cheese Boutique.
But the treat for me, besides learning straight from the expert about all these living, evolving rounds of deliciousness, was how one probes, taste/tests a cheese for aged ripeness, then re-seals the hole, so that the cheese can continue to age.
What a treat to not only see, but also sample an aging cheese (there was sharp bite in it! Pristine told me very honestly that this would be the freshest cheese that can be sampled). Talk about perfect timing. I was also witness to how he employs the traditional practice of using quality butter to reseal the cheese rind plug back into the salami (type of cheese shape) which acts as a band-aid given the room’s condition (of cold air and room’s humidity). All those blisters on the surface around that middle portion of the again provolone? Those are previously probed spots.
And now I can say I’ve probed at 10-footer. Whey cool stuff.