Les Petits Chefs were lucky little guys earlier this week as not only were they dismissed from school extra early, but they got to visit Cheese Boutique on our first ever Petits Chefs field trip! We’re fortunate enough to call Afrim from Cheese Boutique an alum of our school and now his nephew is in one of my classes. The folks from Cheese Boutique are very generous towards school functions and fundraising, yet I was interested to hear that none of my Chefs had ever visited before. It was a fine choice for our first trip off campus and it was fabulous for the boys to spend a little time with Afrim – if there’s ever a guy who absolutely loves what he does, this is it! Following your passion and loving what you do every day – a great role model for my little Chefs!
Cheese Boutique began in 1970 as a simple mom and pop corner store on Bloor Street in Toronto’s West End. Growing into a gourmet “must visit” store and eventually outgrowing their tiny premises, Cheese Boutique moved into a new home in a former sausage factory on an industrial strip called Ripley Avenue off the South Kingsway. This veritable treasure chest of epicurean delights (with an ever-expanding product range) contains the cumulative knowledge of three generations of the Pristine family. Pristine patriarch Fatos has been honoured with the title of Knight of the Order of Agricultural Merit and his son, Afrim, was made a chevalier by Confrérie des Chevaliers du Taste Fromage de France in 2007.
At Cheese Boutique prosciutto hangs from the ceiling, truffles are flown in every Wednesday, foie gras sits under lock and key, beef is dry aged 60 days, there are olive oils from 80 different terroirs and jams made from green walnuts. And that’s before you even hit the beautiful artisanal breads, not to mention the chocolate boutique, pastry temptations and daily handpicked produce. It is, however, for the cheese that one visits. This is a place where “best before” dates do not apply. Taking something good and making it great is a constant philosophy of Cheese Boutique and part of what Afrim, our tour guide, tried to impress upon the boys – that learning how to cook is wonderful but all great dishes start with great ingredients. Nothing like a little tasting of some artisanal lemonade and a selection of charcuterie and cheeses with some baguette to show the boys that really good simple ingredients themselves are always the start of the best meals!
Aging and curing everything from cheese to beef to Meyer lemons is done in-house done with the expert knowledge that only comes with years of experience. You can even get a glimpse of the process by visiting the unique Cheese Vault. Cheese Boutique has been supplying Toronto’s gourmands and restaurants with succulent selections for over 40 years and has become something of a “food museum” where one is not only allowed to take the art home, but nibble it en route!
What’s better than looking at giant rounds of cheese? Why learning how to slice it with a wire cutter! Afrim showed the boys the way, then they all helped slice up a giant cheese into more manageable blocks!
Then the boys got a chance to drive the meat slicer and they shaved off some very thin slices of prosciutto to take home to their lucky families. They were quite the pros, even though they were only just tall enough to operate the slicer!
A little shopping followed the slicing excitement and the boys were bundled back in the car, tummies full of delicious cheese and charcuterie and bags full of treats to share with their parents. More importantly, their eyes were opened to the importance of great quality ingredients and how sometimes simple, when it’s done really well, is all you need. I know a few of them will be back with their parents. Soon!
Many thanks to Sophia, for helping arrange this trip and Agim and Afrim for their generous hospitality. Thanks also to the staff and customers of the Boutique who indulged 8 very excited little boys
* Canadian residents, did you enter my Cora’s giveaway yet? Contest closes October 29th at 6pm EST and the winner will be announced in my post on Sunday, October 30th. Good luck – I can’t wait to read your fun egg facts!