Despite my innate, abiding suspicion of wordplay, the name of a new Corona del Mar shop only made me smile: Vin Goat. My usual objection instantly evaporated, almost certainly due to what’s sold inside: Cheese! The fact that it’s a carefully-curated selection of correctly-stored artisanal cheeses did not go unnoticed, either, in giving a pass to a pun.
Open only since May 8, Vin Goat is the next step for career-changing marketing guys Erich Vogel and John Bennett, a great example of the turn-your-passion-into-a-business model. Unlike some such ventures, however, this one wasn’t entered into on a lark—significant planning and background was developed first. Bennett, a life-long home baker, dropped out of his international marketing position and into the intensive, 8-month pastry program at the Culinary Institute of America’s St. Helena campus. “I’m on the carb station,” he says, matter-of-factly. (Carb station bonus: I’ll have his Missouri farmhouse bread, leavened with a sourdough starter used by his family since the 1800s, in a future ToOC.) Vogel, who’d already catered a bit, left behind a marketing career at an Orange County university to attend The Cheese School of San Francisco, where he could codify his interest in fine cheese into knowledge he could share with others.
Others like me, for instance. In the store Sunday afternoon I heard about and tasted so many fabulous cheeses, it was difficult to narrow my purchase to just several. Some were familiar, like the intensely annato-colored French Mimolette ($19/pound), a firm, smooth, salty cheese that is very good out of hand, but I immediately made a mental note about also using it in a soufflé. You do see Mimolette around sometimes, usually sad and dry at its (pre-)cut edges—so worth trying freshly cut from the boule. Another I was thrilled to try I’d only read about, Ossau-Iraty ($23/pound), a French sheep’s milk cheese with a nutty sweetness and subtle, but distinct, floral aroma. And, I can say after finally getting to try, an instant favorite. The opportunity to buy high-quality in wedges of a civilized (and totally custom) size makes the cheese-consuming part of life even nicer. Vogel says, “We’d much rather people buy a smaller piece, and come back more often, because we can store the cheese here in a way that maintains its quality.”
Cheese’s natural companion, bread, is represented by rustic, crusty loaves from Sadie Rose Baking Company in San Diego, delivered daily to the store in multiple varieties. A fig and honey loaf was remarkably suited to cheese service, as was a cranberry orange walnut, but the plain rustic French was also very good. I noticed baguettes and epis, as well as small, round, seeded rolls. Vin Goat also stocks unusual jarred items, exotic flavored salts, and the wine invoked in the store’s name will be along soon.
Vogel and Bennett and their staff are happy to take customers through the cheese selection, put together a cheese plate or course, and offer expert advice. Cheeses now number about 60, with plans for 150 or so. I can see I’ve got my work cut out for me!