By George Stern (Lubbock, TX)
Another holiday season reels boozily towards its close, boasting the usual carnivore’s cornucopia: lamb, ham, duck, goose, roast (of beef or pork), turkey…
But no goat anywhere, and this Jamaican, by way of Texas, by way of Florida, is disappointed. Again.
I like to imagine that the first person ever to knock a goat on the head, butcher it, season it, and roast it low and slow – did so out of pure aggravation. Goat, after all, carry quite a reputation: ornery, meddlesome, destructive, too clever, even devilish.
In my fantasy the mythical first goat-eater’s aggravation melts away like a layer of clean goat fat at the first bite, for lo, it was flippin’ delicious!
Reality, alas, is far less prosaic.
Goats were domesticated between 9,000 – 11,000 years ago, making them fine candidates for “world’s oldest domestic animal species.“ In a similar way, the “meat or milk?“ debate is apparently a question food historians and anthropologist like to ponder.
In goat’s case, the jury tends to skew towards milk (and its many delightful byproduct) as a principal motive for domestication.
Today, goat production worldwide is indisputably meat focused, coming in as the fifth most-consumed meat in 2021, just behind lamb. Almost none of this popularity comes from the United States, however, where, with the exception of a few “ethnic“ enclaves–goat is more associated with petting zoos, fancy cheese aisles, and handmade soap at farmers’ markets. One issue is that in a land where mild, tender meat like pork, chicken, and white fish still reign supreme, goat suffered from its reputation as a tough, gamey meat.
Another is that goats, with their irrepressible free-range habit, unspecializable diet, and smaller heard structures, just don’t fit into the mass-producing, factory-farming model very well. Indeed, there aren’t even any growth hormones approved for use on goats, effectively limiting the extent to which they can be turned into hyper-efficient, meat and dairy producing machines.
So, yes, goat meat does have some… personality (more than chicken, less than lamb), and does require intentionality and TLC to take it in the many delicious directions it can go – but no more so than ribs or brisket, and it’s much more forgiving than turkey. And, yes, sourcing goat meat is generally a more involved endeavor than grabbing a pork shoulder from the supermarket, especially in areas without large Latin, Caribbean, Indian (subcontinental), or Middle Eastern community.
But you know, it was worth every text, phone call, dollar, and last-minute schedule alteration, not just for the delicious tri-tip tender chunks of meat (see photo), but also because it put me in touch with two of our local producers. People who love what they do, starts in how they treat their land, and ends in how they treat their customers.
To get the variety and the quantity of cuts I wanted, I had to contact the local farmer and reserve a whole goat. Which ended up involving another farm family and a butcher that the first farmer knew.