Photo credit: Steven Elphick
Afrim Pristine has a passion that was given to him by his family—cheese. He practically grew up at Cheese Boutique, a now four-generation cheese and gourmet food store, owned by his family. Although the store typically carries on average about 500 kinds of cheese, Afrim’s curiosity keeps him learning about cheeses and cheesemaking across the globe, which environments are best for maturing cheeses and which processes and variables bring them to life. He travelled. Europe was an obvious stop (with a Southern Italian mom and an Albanian dad). But he didn’t stop there. He observed, tasted and took in all he could about cheeses with a hunger fueled by the passion he was raised with.
Eventually, Afrim became the world’s youngest Maître Fromager and a renowned expert. He came back to Cheese Boutique, and when he was approached by a publisher to write his story, he decided to make it a beginner’s guide to enjoying cheeses at every meal. He focuses on helping everyday people and chefs alike to understand the flavour profiles as well as storage dos and don’ts.
As Afrim points out, cheese is not a trend; it’s not going anywhere. The industry continues to adapt for example to an interest in products for those with lactose intolerance (featuring and creating lactose-free and marketing the many existing kinds of cheese that are already low or no lactose) as well as vegan cheeses. Afrim wants his customers and readers to be as comfortable and in love with cheese as he is.
Following are questions we asked to get to know Afrim a little better:
Do you have a lucky charm in the kitchen?
My microplane! I can’t grate cheese without it.
What’s the last thing you burned?
My forearm, true story…
Your favourite spice?
Sumac. I grew up eating a lot of Turkish food, I adore sumac!
What makes you “kitchen angry”?
When people put hard rules on food.
No such thing in my kitchen. In my opinion, food is personal.
Latest flavour combination you discovered?
Cheese and seafood. Yup, that’s right, it works very well when you take your time and pair contrasting flavour combinations.
What’s your most extravagant purchase?
A 600 dollar shun knife, but technically I just stole it from The Cheese Boutique, but nonetheless, it’s extravagant!
Favourite song in the kitchen?
Sinister kid from The Black Keys.
What’s your comfort food?
What’s your most essential tool?
Again… the microplane.
If you could change anything in the food industry, what would it be?
The perception that success is easy in the food industry. Blood, sweat and tears – that’s what it takes to succeed.
Favourite smell in the kitchen?
What’s your bad habit?
What do you admire in other chefs?
I admire work ethics and dedicated chefs.
What or who is your greatest inspiration?
My greatest inspiration is my dad – very easy answer!
The dish you are the proudest of?
I made a grilled ravioli at an event at Langdon Hall with Ontario peas, creme fraiche and amazing pecorino cheese. It was super tasty.
What’s your end of the world menu?
Hard questions, but more than likely it would be a burrata and tomato salad – ideally the world ends in the summer so the tomatoes are amazing.
Then my mom’s famous pasta fagiloi, which is a simple, rustic, one pot, pasta with beans, ham hock and lots of love.
For dessert, a piece of Parmigiano Reggiano and a few strawberries.
Your favourite advice or quote?
Overcharge and over deliver.