Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Even before I break out my notepad at the Cheese Boutique to begin my interview, a “labour of love” is placed on the table right before my eyes in the form of a hand stuffed Italian Bomba.
Described by the owner as a “fancy schmancy doughnut” the Bomba, one of 500 that are made each day at Cheese Boutique, is a delicious surprise in a place that seems to be filled with them.
I’m here to meet Afrim Pristine, the Maitre Fromager of Cheese Boutique to talk not only about his business but also his involvement with Terroir Symposium, a not-for-profit committee of industry professionals that is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary in Toronto. Pristine has been involved with Terroir from the beginning and it’s not hard to see why.
Cheese Boutique is a three-generation family business that started in 1970 and has grown to be a city favourite. His passion for food – especially cheese – is evident as he discusses his family story and where the food comes from. It’s not difficult to see why the Terroir Symposium has also become one of Pristine’s passions as well.
“We’ve always had an involvement in Terroir since year one. We’ve had our media dinners here, I’ve given tours of the store and the city to incoming chefs, I did a breakfast and a lunch a couple years ago. It’s something we fully believe in,” says Pristine. “Why Terroir is happening is so that we can all get together in the same room and talk about issues, good or bad, figure them out, for the betterment of the dining and food experience for the customer. Not me, not you. The customer. That to me is just spreading the awareness of the industry. I’m really excited.”
This year, according to the website, Terroir will be exploring artistic and technological ingenuity in every aspect of hospitality. They will look at next-level dining concepts as well as where the gastronomical pleasures are heightened by awe-inspiring infusions of Art, Culture and Technology. Terroir will follow the supply chain back to the source and explore those innovations supporting the quality of ingredients on our plates.
“I honestly feel what Terroir has done, and the players that they’ve brought to Toronto, not many people in the world can do that. I think that says a lot about Terroir, and all the people like (Executive Director and Founder) Arlene Stein, (Renee) Lalonde and (Business Development) Rebecca Mackenzie and the rest of the team,” says Pristine. “I think it says a lot about Toronto as well, where (in previous years) hey, René Redzepi will jump on a plane and be keynote speaker, David Chang, same thing. I could go on. All these names, some of the biggest pioneers in this industry ever, globally, stop what they’re doing in their busy schedules and come and be a part of a great symposium. That’s rare, that is very rare. That says a lot for how Terroir has grown, and I think it says a lot for what Canada is about.”
Finding outstanding cheese at this establishment isn’t a huge surprise due in large part to Terroir’s Marketing Communications manager Renee Lalonde, who as luck would have it lives in the area. While the discussion may be about Terroir with Pristine, the smells and sights make it difficult to stay focused with all this delicious food floating around.
Days before the visit, Lalonde made it abundantly clear which cheese has stolen her heart.
“Promise me, promise me,” she says in a hushed tone over the phone, “that you will try the Jackhammer.”
And why not? Any cheese named Jackhammer has to be unforgettable, and it certainly is. A very unique cheese from Quebec made exclusively for Cheese Boutique, Jackhammer is aged in-house for 18 months. The bold pumpkin colour comes from the high beta carotene content in the cow’s diet.
The cheese counter is buzzing on both sides with locals trying samples of cheeses. There is more cheese here than you will ever have time to taste but I’m certainly willing to give it a shot.
Besides Jackhammer I also try the PEI Clothbound Cheddar, one of Canada’s finest cheeses from the famous “Cows” dairy in beautiful Prince Edward Island, aged in cheese cloth for a total of 18 months. Another is Le Marechal, an unpasteurized Swiss cheese from Corcellas-aux Payernes, wrapped in various herbs and spices and aged in-house for two years. Each cheese is different, with it’s own personality.
For me, the surprises come away from the cheese counter. The first are the variety of items that are available at this store: olive oils available from 80 different terroirs, grapes as big as golf balls, steaks dry aged a minimum 40 days, a room filled with pastas, gluten-free crackers and barbecue equipment all seem beautifully out of place in this store and create the feeling of controlled confusion that has made this boutique a city legend.
The second surprise is the bakery and the aforementioned homemade Italian Bomba, beautiful pastries with fillings that explode out of my mouth and down my chin on the first bite.
Speaking of surprises, one of the biggest Pristine has made to Terroir – and also one of the most delicious – isn’t cheese but rather the arrival of Ambassador of Turkish Cuisine from Istanbul and the Culture and Tourism Office of Turkey Chef Eyup Kemal Sevinc.
Pristine, who enjoys family vacations in Turkey and has a deep history with country, was instrumental in bringing Turkey on board with the Terroir Symposium this year.
The happy result is the Totally Turkish Cocktail Party in Walker Court, an event hosted by Chef Sevinc. It will feature a banquet of unique culinary treasures from the Turkish City of Gaziantep, which has been given the designation from UNESCO in the “Creative City Network in Gastronomy.”
The menu will include Walnut & Pistachio Raisin Sausage, Walnut & Pistachio Muska, Walnut & Pistachio Halva, Artichoke Heart Filled with Broad Bean Mousse Served with Purslane Garnish & Beetroot and Stuffed Dried Vegetables, Stuffed Grapevine Leaves with Bulgur Filling, Tray Bake Filo Pastry with Rice.
Terroir Symposium is going to draw presenters and artists from Canada and around the world, including Israeli wine maker Roni Saslov, Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada winners Jeremy Charles and Vikram Vij, author Carolyn Phillips and Sommolier Michael Madrigale from Philadelphia.
MORE ABOUT THE TERROIR SYMPOSIUM
MORE ABOUT THE CHEESE BOUTIQUE