When was the last time you ate meat from an animal whose diet included wood?
No, I'm not talking about woodchucks. I'm talking about goats, an animal most Americans don't even think twice about as they're perusing the meat counter.
Goat meat might seem like a relative mystery for the uninitiated. But, goat is actually the most widely eaten red meat in the world, accounting for approximately 70 percent of global consumption, according to Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, authors of the book "Goat." A mainstay in Jamaican, Mexican, Asian and Arab cuisine, goat meat has seen unprecedented popularity in countries outside the U.S.
But, all of that is changing.
"As more Americans travel abroad and take in the information available on TV food shows, they are beginning to realize that goat is a very high-quality meat, which is extremely low in both fat and cholesterol," says Karen Stardy, co-owner of BSW Farm, a family owned and operated farm located near Union Grove.
And Stardy has a point. Goat meat contains a third fewer calories than beef and half the saturated fat of chicken. It's also a popular choice for diners with meat allergies.
"We started with goats when my children were young and we realized our family had food allergies." Stardy explains. "Goats are the most non-allergic animal in the world. Their milk, meat, hair and hides cause little allergic reaction. I have 16 celiacs who get meat from us, and say they have little if any reaction to it. Not everyone reacts the same, but most are just thankful they can have meat again."
BSW's goats are raised on pasture as often as the weather in Wisconsin allows. During the winter, the herd is fed grass and alfalfa hay, as well as a grain mix that contains corn, soybean meal, vitamins and minerals.
"When raised well and butchered at the proper time there should not be any goaty taste," Stardy explains as she tells me about the flavor of their meat. "The closest description of goat meat that I can describe is it is a little sweeter than beef, has the long muscle strands of venison, but not the gamey taste the venison can get. Many of my customers tell me it is not even as strong as lamb."
But, consumers with food allergies aren't the only ones embracing goat meat. Area chefs are putting it on their menus, right along with trendy options like heritage breed pork and turkey.
"Goat meat is not that prevalent," says Dave Swanson, owner and executive chef at Braise. "The milk is mostly used for cheese and soap making, which is a much greater return of investment for the farmer. With that being said, we do occasionally have goat coming into the RSA. We will have it on the menu at Braise in the future. It will really depend on the variety of goat available; some are used exclusively for their milk and the meat is lacking in flavor."
Just over 40 percent of U.S. goats are raised specifically for their meat, according to the Department of Agriculture. Another 10 percent are dairy goats. Among those raised for meat are the Boer breed, Tennessee Fainting Goats and Kiko goats; most tend to be slaughtered when they're 3 to 5 months of age and weighing from 25 to 50 pounds. The relatively small size of even adult goats make them fairly easy for restaurants to bring in whole and butcher themselves.
Last summer, Justin Aprahamian, chef de cuisine at Sanford, brought in a number of whole goats to serve at the restaurant.
"We made roasted leg and shoulders paired with part of the rack," he says. "It was part of our Mexico menu, and we paired it with roasted cactus, Guajillo chiles and toasted pumpkin seeds."
This week he is prepping another Mexican dish with a similar flavor profile – a goat stew with pumpkin seeds, tomatillo and cactus. Another popular dish at the restaurant has included last weekend's cauliflower and braised goat samosa, which was served with a cauliflower and golden raisin relish and saffon gastrique.
Hinterland's Executive Chef Dan Van Rite says that the restaurant has typically brought in either whole goats or legs for dishes like goat curry, sausage and grilled chops. He says he is planning a goat dinner in collaboration with Underground Meats in Madison to take place later this spring featuring, among other dishes, Underground's goat salami.
Aaron Patin, executive chef at Charro, says that his work with goat has always included the whole animal. "You get some great chops out of the loin, a good round steak (bone-in) and the rest is always ground for sausage. I've made goat brats before, or used the meat stewed for a pasta dish. When it is braised it is best compared to ox tail in deep texture and richness."
Patin hopes to bring goat tacos, as well as a goat loin entrée and goat chorizo to the Charro menu this spring.
When it comes to favorite preparations for goat meat, Swanson has this to say: "Braising (surprise) is the best way to utilize the flavor and texture of the meat. Preserved Wisconsin plums, something we do in house, are a great accompaniment, playing on Moroccan influences. Preserved lemons, also done in house, are added as well."
As far as working with goat meat goes, Patin gives this advice: "It's not tricky. Like any other type of meat, just respect it and do it justice."
Interested in tackling goat at home? Consumers can purchase BSW goat meat at the Milwaukee County Winter Market, held Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Tommy Thompson Youth Center at State Fair Park.
Otherwise, here's a list of some other Milwaukee restaurants serving up delicious platters of goat.
- Ashley's Barbeque at 1501 W. Center St. serves up BBQ goat ribs as a regular offering on their menu.
- Mayura, at 1958 N. Farwell Ave. features at least three goat entrées including Kadahi Gosht; Gosht Vindaloo, a spicy Indian curry with goat; and Gosht Saagwala, goat with greens.
- Taqueria El Cabrito (cabrito means "little goat"), located at 1100 S. 11th St., features goat meat tacos and tortas.
- Maharaja, located at 1550 N. Farwell Ave. includes a dish called Goat Malabar on their menu, a kerala style Indian dish made with coconut milk.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.