Eleven years ago, after I started CheeseLover.ca and launched The Great Canadian Cheese Festival, I approached Food Network Canada to explore the possibilities of creating a show about Canadian cheese. I was told in no uncertain terms, Food Network does not do single-ingredient programming.
Fast forward to May 10, 2021: Food Network Canada announces that it’s diving into the world of cheese with a food travel docu-series entitled Cheese: A Love Story. Hosted by Afrim Pristine, owner of Cheese Boutique in Toronto, the series will see him traveling the globe “exploring the most iconic cheese locations and hidden gems to get a deeper look at one of the world’s greatest, and most beloved foods. Cheese: A Love Story makes its debut on June 9 at 8 p.m. ET on Food Network Canada.”
The change-of-heart at the network is testament to how the food scene has changed in the past decade, how much more loved and enjoyed fine cheese is today by Canadians, and how high of a profile Afrim Pristine has managed to build for himself over the past 25 years at the family cheese emporium in west-end Toronto.
Here’s how Corus Studios/Proper Television, which produced the series, describes the show:
Afrim Pristine is Canada’s leading cheese expert, owner of the Cheese Boutique in Toronto and has over 25 years of cheese experience. His passion and commitment to learning more about this magical food stems from his father and family business of 50 years. In this six-part series Cheese: A Love Story, Afrim embarks on a journey to meet up with the farmers, cheesemakers, shop owners, affineurs and chefs in Switzerland, France, Greece, Toronto, Quebec and British Columbia. In each episode, Afrim’s love of cheese only grows fonder as he gets an in-depth look at how each culture has made it their own. Throughout his excursions, he crosses paths with culinary pioneers including: Chuck Hughes (Le Bremner) and Michele Forgione (Chez Tousignant) in Quebec; Elia Herrera (Colibri) and Aiko Uchigoshi (Aburi Hana) in Toronto; and Wall of Chefs’ Rob Feenie and Top Chef Canada Season 7 winner Paul Moran in British Columbia, and many more.
In the premiere episode airing Wednesday, June 9 at 8 p.m. ET, Afrim starts his journey in Switzerland, where he meets with chefs, cheesemakers, vendors and a legendary affineur, Roland Salhi to learn the fine art of aging. In the home known for Gruyère, raclette, fondue, and the famous holey Swiss Emmental, Afrim learns firsthand how these classic cheeses stand the test of time and discovers the modern approaches the Swiss have innovated in the world of cheesemaking.
Here’s a preview of other segments as per Corus:
More than a few countries like to call themselves the “masters” of cheese, but none has cheese more engrained in its cultural identity than France. This is where Afrim knows he’ll find upwards of 400 varieties of cheese in soft, semi-soft and pressed forms, each made in their own specialty pockets of the country. The journey begins in Paris, where gastronomy is the national pastime. Here, cheese is enjoyed in iconic dishes, from a delicate Soufflé to a hearty Tartiflette, to a simple cheese board enjoyed one bite at a time. Then, Afrim heads south to the Jura Mountains to find one of the largest cheese aging facilities in the world. Situated in a former military fort once helmed by Napoléon, the vast, winding fortress of underground caves and tunnels is unlike any other cheese-ripening facility on the planet. Afrim’s final stop is in Normandy, where he shops the local market, Marché de Dieppe, to learn about the region’s heart and history with Neufchâtel and Camembert.
Not to be outdone in terms of long traditions, Afrim takes a trip to Greece where the history of cheese dates back thousands of years. Greece is one of the first countries on record to ever make cheese, from shepherds with sheep and goats on the mountainside to athletes at the first Olympic games energizing with cheesecake. Cheese is a national cornerstone at every Greek table. Starting in the capital city of Athens, Afrim meets Greek master chef Akis Petretzikis to find out how traditional cheeses are used today in beloved Greek dishes; from Hortopita cheese pie to traditional Greek salad, Horatiki. Heading north to the Thessaly region, Afrim finds the historic capital of pure barrel-aged Grecian Feta, Greece’s most iconic cheese. The final stop is Crete, where local shepherds still employ the art of ancient cheesemaking completely by hand in methods passed down over generations.
Quebec cheese making is a practice rooted in heritage and tradition, from long established family fromageries to the key ingredients of classic local dishes. Quebec is known as one of the finest cheese making regions in the world and has developed a whole tourism industry modeled around the top quality and wide variety of cheeses they produce. Afrim’s journey into the creamy creations of Quebec begins in Montreal where he tastes modern takes on timeless classics, and of course, poutine. Just outside the city, Afrim stops in at two generations-old fromageries, both known for some of the region’s best cheeses and for their unique settings. Then he heads North to the historical capital Quebec City and the neighbouring Charlevoix County to experience the most iconic local traditions that la belle province has to offer.
Not all great cheese comes from old Europe. Cheese is now, truly, a global favourite. This time Afrim takes a mini trip around the world in his own backyard, Toronto, one of the most diverse and cultural cities on the planet. Afrim gets a rare opportunity to see the extent of new influences on cheese since he first began in the business. From Filipino food trucks, to Korean diners, to Caribbean comfort classics; Afrim gets an inside look at the cheese secrets of immigrant neighbourhoods all over town. Turns out he needn’t travel far to see the effect of a booming global cheese culture, expressed through the cultural melting pot right here at home.
The last leg of Afrim’s journey is in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. It’s the same country where Afrim lives, but thousands of miles from his home and worlds away in terms of its cheese culture. Unlike his other stops with centuries-old cheese histories, B.C.’s cheese scene is unencumbered by tradition. Here, in the wild west, there’s a free-to-invent mentality that touches all aspects of the lifestyle, including cheese, and the collective attitude is to ‘support your own’ and ‘buy local.’ Afrim will be surprised and delighted by the quality he finds in under-represented spots like Tofino, Comox, Salt Spring Island and of course, the culinary capital of Vancouver. Against some of the most breathtaking scenery the country has to offer, Afrim enjoys some of the world’s top-notch, award-wining cheese that punctuates platters and ignites local chef’s imaginations.
Cheese: A Love Story makes its debut on Wednesday, June 9, at 8 p.m. ET on Food Network Canada.
Kudos to Corus Studios/Proper Television. Congrats to Afrim Pristine! Three cheers for cheese!
Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, has never met a cheese he didn’t like . . . well, hardly ever. Follow him on YouTube at Strictly Cheese.