Whey cool: inside Cheese Boutique’s jam-packed, million-dollar cheese vault
Cheese Boutique, the 10,000-square-foot gourmet food store on the edge of Etobicoke, is not your standard grocer. Even more impressive than its selection of specialty goods (and that Google Street View has been inside) is its in-store, open-to-the-public cheese vault that stocks $1-million worth of dairy products. Afrim Pristine, co-owner and one of six maîtres fromager in Canada, showed us what’s hiding where.
The temperature in the climate-controlled room sits between five and nine degrees Celsius, with the humidity set at 65%. The floor of the vault is flooded nightly and the cheese acts like a sponge, absorbing any moisture it can get. Shelves are made from pine or oak (because of their subtle scents). They’re scrubbed and soaked monthly and kept fully stocked—Pristine buys 300 wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano twice a year to replace those that are taken out. Whether they weigh 10 kilograms or 260, every one of them is hand-lifted into place.
Each wheel that a customer purchases is tagged with its commission date and estimated date of peak ripeness. Says Pristine: “My job as an affineur [someone who ages cheese] is to age it, maintain it and give it love and care so that the evolution keeps going. A full wheel of cheese can age for 4,000 years—it needs time to change and evolve to knock your socks off. Just like when you take the cork out of a bottle of wine, when you cut into cheese, the aging process stops.”
Italy’s Auricchio family custom-makes Cheese Boutique’s provolone. (This one’s six feet long.) To check provolone’s ripeness, Pristine “probes” it, then uses butter as a natural Band-Aid to reseal the hole that’s been made.
A number of the wheels have been reserved by restaurants around the city, like Splendido, Langdon Hall and Pizzeria Libretto. Real Sports is currently storing a 10-foot log of provolone (it’s one of the world’s largest), and Via Allegro commissioned some parm in 2003 (it’s now one of the world’s oldest). “It’s kind of like the Mona Lisa,” says Pristine of the 12-year old parm. Others are for private collections, including those of Barenaked Ladies’ Tyler Stewart and chef Chuck Hughes. “In Italy, people would rather invest in cheese than in banks,” Pristine says. “A wheel of cheese is only going to appreciate in value and, more importantly, in flavour.”
The public is allowed to walk through the 300-square-foot space, but they have to keep their hands to themselves, and so do most of the store’s 70 employees—only three of them are allowed to touch the goods.
The freezer here doesn’t do much freezing. It’s kept at the same temperature as the vault, but its air-tight seal keeps things at 100% humidity and is used to house cheeses that thrive in a moist environment, including those from the Ottawa Valley’s Back Forty fromagerie.
It’s not just cheese in the cheese vault: here is where truffles, tuna and mullet roe, and barrels of 10- and 15-year-old balsamic vinegar are kept.
And rows of vacuum-sealed prosciuttos are stored up here until they’re taken out and air-dried from the store’s rafters.
Blue cheeses, like these stacks of clothbound English Stilton, do best in air that’s cold, wet and draughty. Because they’re the smallest cheeses in the vault, the blues get squeezed onto the top shelves.
Standard blocks of Boerenkaas Gouda made in Holland run from 9 to 12 kilograms. These 30- and 60-kilogram slabs were custom-made for the shop—only 10 wheels of each size were cast, and afterwards, Pristine had the moulds destroyed. “In October, Alain Ducasse was here—a very proud moment for me and my family. We each cut one. I’d never cut one before,” he says. “I gambled—I had the best chef ever in my store, but I wanted to do it. It was awesome.”
One rack is filled with three-kilogram loaves of aging Glengarry Lankaaster, a hard cheese that made international headlines in 2013 when it was crowned Global Supreme Champion (no, seriously) at the Global Cheese Awards. Pristine knows his cheese: he had been stockpiling and aging the gouda-style stuff for years before the announcement.
Cheese Boutique, 45 Ripley Avenue, 416-762-6292, cheeseboutique.com
18 thoughts on “Whey cool: inside Cheese Boutique’s jam-packed, million-dollar cheese vault”
Would you stop with that stat.!!! Every time there is a store or restaurant review?? Pretty annoying. There are nicer restaurants in the west end of the city. Deal with it.
Yeah, I’m sorry to break it to you but the east side of the city kind of sucks and there’s not much point on ever going much east of Yonge. Maybe if you guys had something notable to write about, there would be more written about your end of the city.
I’m sorry, I’m an East End guy, and always will be. I love the Distillery District, St. Lawrence Market, Beaches, the Danforth (Greektown), Corktown, Mount Pleasant Village, Brickworks, Don Valley Ravine..etc. .I understand just about every other new restaurant is being built in the west end, as well as condos, but the East is coming. The west is becoming very convoluted and overwhelming with too many people. It’s way more relaxed, and clean might i add, in the east. I feel at home and like i can breathe in the east, and it’s beautiful. We are just as close to everything you would ever want ( just as expensive as well, maybe even more), I love the East and always will.
I wonder how much it would cost to stage an Ocean’s Eleven style heist of this vault. Asking….for a friend.
you now what else is annoying? a toronto life that rarely goes outside the bubble? you know what else is annoying? people who don’t go out of their west end bubble and just knee jerk state ‘the east side sucks’. you know what else is annoying? people that are so easily upset by someone that simply points out how toronto life are so limited. you 2 girls could easily block him and not see the state that oh-so-upsets you so much. but you won’t. because people like you look for things to bellyache about. grow up, put on your big boy pants and stop being so fragile.
Or maybe if the West could sustain a restaurant for any given length of time it might be different. But then again, the West is where hipsters reside and nothing lasts. Because they’re not allowed to think anything is good for longer than 6 months. I’m sure Junior and My Two Cents are all about that. I agree with the old guy: you two stop your whining.
Junior is definitely hipster-type. Anyone that starts a post with ‘Yeah’ is West End Hipster and chronic complainer. And My two cents with his excessive punctuation. I can’t imagine he’s annoying in real life. And now, back to Toronto Life reviews of what 3 or 4 faux Mexican taquerias opened in Kensington this week. And what overpriced Asian Fusion South American burger place opened up on Roncesvalles. GET OUT OF THE SMALL 2 BOXES!!! Those exclamation marks were for your enjoyment My Two Cents.
Darren, keep on doing it. Not only fascinating but if it annoys people like juniormistmaker and his type, then you know it’s the right thing to do.
yeah, i’m sorry to break it to you Troll: distillery district. greektown. little india. brodview chinatown. the original burger’s priest before it became something you fake elites in the west got and decided was ‘just okay, nothing great’. but i guess others have hit on the problem: places in the east tend to have more staying power and last where you guys don’t have anything worth sticking around for. just like these big chefs that hop from place to place. the west is more just trendy places that start out with a big show and fizzle out because you guys can’t like anything for very long and those places often can’t sustain any kind of quality or interest for long.
So does everyone east of Yonge have an inferiority complex? I enjoy restaurants all over the GTA to be honest. Oakville and Vaughan have some fantastic restaurants as well. I love the Danforth and the Distillery. So for you haters out there, I was merely making a point that every time TL does a story of a restaurant located west of Yonge, there has to be some infantile comment made about it. I think Grizzled Oldtimer and Darren are the one’s who have to stop the whining and put on some big boy pants and get out of the east end once in a while.
Enough of the hatred, you’re missing the whole point of this article.
This store is unreal, so many awesome things but the attention to detail and the customer the Pristine’s do is awesome.
if you love food not just cheese, do yourself a favor and go see and sample their “wares” you’ll be happy you did
there was no infantile comment until you started it all with YOUR infantile comment. someone is merely pointing out the disparity and you resorted to your shtick. and then what do you do? you backtrack on it. make up your mind. and for the record, you are the one who needs to stop whining.
“the east side of the city kind of sucks and there’s not much point on ever going much east of Yonge”
What were you saying about “infantile comments”?
Pot… meet the kettle that began the whole thing.
You are quoting Junior. Not me.
Was happy to photography the Google Business View Tour for Cheese Boutique. Here’s the actually 360 View inside the Vault : https://goo.gl/maps/2T51Q
Was quite the experience! Great article Renee!
Cheese Boutique has been around for 45 years…
Ah. Makes sense now. You’re just a true loser. Got it.
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