Before Sarah Barrette was known as the spunky owner of The Cheese Bar, she was an ambitious world traveller.
She got her first taste of the travel bug after her high school graduation, when she left for Europe and toured on her own for six weeks, even celebrating her 18th birthday abroad. She didn’t know this would set her off on a lifelong journey of exploring the world.
When she came home, Sarah worked in factories before pursuing interior design at St. Clair College. Then, right out of college, she landed a job with Peter Anthony Design Ltd., and it was while she was working there that she got the call from her best friend.
“She was complaining about having to hire a stewardess to work on her charter boat and after listening to her for a bit I offered to fly down and take the position.” Sarah says that her friend was extremely taken aback by the offer. Why would she leave a design job that she loved?
Sarah figured that, at 22, she had her whole life to work on her passion for design. Now was her opportunity to travel. Five days later, she was on a plane and moving to the island of Saint Martin to start a career in yachting.
She cruised the northern Caribbean, the eastern United States, and most of the Mediterranean through this job. Then, one Christmas, Sarah came home to an invitation to join her best friend on a trip to Asia. Once again, she packed her bags and took off to Asia for a quick stop before being convinced to move to Australia.
Sarah saw it all, starting at Karratha in the northwest and travelling south to Perth. She road-tripped with some Germans in their van through the Adelaide hills along the great ocean road to Melbourne. After reaching Melbourne, she had come to a crossroads with her visa expiring.
“I decided to apply for a farming position in Tasmania on a wild game and fishing retreat. I come from a background where my dad, grandfather, and brother would hunt and fish, so moving to Tasmania for me was a beautiful setting and I felt like I fit right in.”
Sarah’s only looming deadline was that she promised a childhood friend she’d be back for her wedding in September 2014. Before returning to Windsor, she had one more stop to make. After spending a lot of her time working abroad, she treated herself to a trip to South Africa and celebrated her 29th birthday while on safari.
“It was incredible and that day I realized I’d lived my life without any regrets and that I wanted to continue to live that way. Whenever an opportunity presented itself, I went for it. Whenever I was unhappy, I changed my course to ensure that I was always happiest with whatever I was doing.”
What does this have to do with cheese?
Well, Sarah did make it home for that wedding, and it was at the time she decided to organize a wine tour with her friends and their mothers. While planning, she was surprised to see that Windsor-Essex didn’t have a cheese shop along the wine route. She had just come from places all around the world that boasted amazing wine and cheese regions, and knew she had to supply this need for a rapidly growing wine region like Windsor.
“I registered my business in 2015 and met with cheesemakers across Ontario. When I said to them that I’d like to sell cheese in Essex County, three out of five of them had never considered retailing cheese west of London. They didn’t think there was a market for it,” she says.
She explains that many people have convinced themselves this region is a write-off, but it’s all about education. We don’t have many cheeses local to Windsor, so her focus is on small-batch Canadian-made products.
Now, Sarah shares the art of cheese with even the most inexperienced of cheese-lovers. “That’s why I tell my customers about my travel stories. I’m this interior designer–turned-cheesemonger, and I knew nothing about cheese! I came from a family that never ate cheese. So, I’m perfectly okay if you come in here and you’ve only ever had marble cheese. That’s why we’re here.”
Sarah’s business is built around building trust and education through storytelling—because each cheese has its own story. “As soon as there’s a story and heart behind a product, the customer can take pieces of it and share that experience with others. It creates a sense of memory and belonging,” she says.
That’s the beauty of cheese—it’s a product that brings people together. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, if you put some cheese out, people congregate around it and engage in conversation.
She and noted Windsor sommelier Renee Nantais have put together a charcuterie board and pairing list for the holidays, but they want to remind readers what the holidays are really about. “It would be so unfortunate if a hostess were reading this and got caught up in the precision, rather than seeing the beauty of the fact that they have friends and are able to spend this time with them. That’s the magic,” Renee says.
With the complexities sitting across the board, hosts: don’t overpower those flavours. Renee says this isn’t the time to pull out your super fancy aged Bordeaux. Pop a bottle of bubbly, and let the wine play a supportive role for the flavours and the company. Sarah encourages the reader to take any story about travel, food, wine, or cheese—it could even be this one—and let it navigate them and their guests towards an adventure outside of their palate’s comfort zone.
Wine and Cheese Anyone?
All cheeseboards provided by The Cheese Bar. All wine pairings provided by Renée Nantais, Neros’ in-house Sommelier
The Easy Eating board
- Brigid’s Brie—Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese Co.
- Chèvre—Fromagerie Kapuskoise
- Celtic Blue Reserve—Glengarry Fine Cheese Co.
- Cow’s Extra Old Cheddar—Cow’s Creamery
- Sheep Gouda—Crossroad Farms
- Hungarian Salami
- Noah Martin Pepperettes
- LCBO: Look for Prosecco or Champagne
- Local: North 42 Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc
The crisp acidity will cut the richness of the cream and fat; its fresh citrus, pear and melon fruit flavours will provide a nice contrast to the spicy charcuterie; and the bubbles will refresh your palette.
Try it with the tangy chèvre, and you will see why Sauvignon Blanc and goat cheese are considered a classic pairing.
The Sweeter Board
- Mocha D’Or
- Lemon Zest Shortbread
- Mango Ginger Stilton
- Koko’s Coconut Gouda
- Grand Noir
- Matilda in the Buff
- LCBO: Look for Port or Madeira (Malvesia)
- Local: Black Bear Farms 2009 Bear’s Reserve
Pay a visit to ‘Bear’ at Black Bear Farms of Ontario Estate Winery, who is creating some award-winning port style wines from berries and fruit grown on his farm in Kingsville. It’s hard to pick a favourite amongst his wines, but this dessert board requires a wine with sweetness. A wine must be at least as sweet as, or sweeter than the food you are serving to make a good match. With luscious black raspberry flavours, Bear’s Reserve makes for a fine digestif after a holiday meal.
The Connoisseur board
- Dutch Premium 3yr Gouda
- Little Boy Blue
- Mattagami 1yr
- Five Brothers
- Saucisson Sec
- Smoked Duck Breast
- Variation 1: LCBO: Look for Chablis
- Local: Coopers Hawk 2016 Reserve Chardonnay
This wine offers perfect complementary buttery, nutty, and green apple flavours.
- Variation 2: LCBO: Look for Beaujolais Villages or Cru Beaujolais
- Local: Oxley 2016 Big Bluff Vineyard Pinot Noir
With flavours and aromas of sour cherry, Christmas spice, and forest mushrooms, this medium-bodied, low-tannin wine would particularly complement the Juliette from BC. Pinot Noir is also a great match for smoked duck.
Avoid big, bold, full-bodied reds, as they can overwhelm a charcuterie platter. Hard cheeses, like the Mattagami cheese from Kapuskasing, pair best with reds.