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Other cultures love goat. Why we should too.
Who doesn’t love goats? They’re cute, they do a really good Taylor Swift impression and they eat our mortal botanical enemy: kudzu. If it weren’t for the humble capra aegagrus hircus, we wouldn’t be able to browse rows of goat milk candles and goat milk soap at the Chattanooga Market, and we would be deprived of the greatest thing to ever come out of a goat’s teat—delicious, delicious goat cheese.
Travel outside the borders of the US and you’ll find plenty of goat fans, but they will be eyeing little Gabby the Goat’s chops and loins rather than the fruits of her udders. Maybe it’s because Oscar Meyer hasn’t started making goat bacon yet, but Americans still haven’t caught on to the idea of eating goat meat, in spite of the fact that it is the most widely consumed meat in the world, accounting for about 70 percent of global red meat consumption.
Americans view eating goat with a high “ick” factor. This likely comes from decades of associating the word “goat” with tin-can-eating cartoons, half-human “Island of Dr. Moreau” mutations and psyche-scarring childhood encounters with butt-pellet-spraying goats at the petting zoo. One step in the attempt to help goat’s PR problem was to start referring to goat meat with the more exotic-sounding names cabrito, chevre, or chevon. While this may seem like mere semantics, try telling dinner guests you are serving “dead cow” rather than “beef” and see how powerful these labels are when it comes to the food we eat. Goat’s new and more pleasant-sounding monikers have helped, but America is still far behind the rest of the world in goat consumption.
The problem with eating goat may also stem from the fact that most Americans are culinary cowards. We love to watch Andrew Zimmern parade his bald head around the world eating every creature too slow to escape his hungry maw, but when it comes to eating anything that doesn’t come beautifully packaged and pristinely cleaned of every bone, sinew and hunk of fat, the vast majority of Americans turn up their noses and run for the nearest bright red Tyson logo.
In truth, however, goat is one of the most beautiful and leanest meats available, with bison, turkey breast, and codfish being the only meats lower in fat calories. And let’s be honest, if Mickey D’s sold a Double McChevre with cheese, nicely packaged in a little clamshell box imploring you to start “lovin’ it,” my comments about how delicious the little bearded ruminants would look slowly roasting over a fire wouldn’t get me kicked out of the local petting zoo every, single time.
So everyone in the world eats it, and it’s really healthy, but how does goat taste? The first time I tasted goat was in Jamaica. Caribbean cultures generally prefer older bucks that are stronger-tasting, less tender and chock-full of that pungent barnyard aroma. This particular goat also seemed to have been butchered with a wood chipper, which turned the experience into an unpleasant treasure hunt for slivers of chewy, gamey meat.
Thankfully I wasn’t deterred. Now I stick to eating goat from younger animals that have been carefully butchered and thoughtfully prepared. The flavor is like listening to a new song from your favorite band—it’s familiar, but new. It’s tempting to take a descriptive shortcut and say that goat tastes like lamb, but that’s like saying rabbit tastes like chicken, which is equally untrue. Goat is equidistant to lamb and beef, but has a clean, grassy, herbal flavor that is sweeter and less greasy than beef.
In Chattanooga, your choices for goat are limited, but there are a few farms around, such as Sheerlark Farms, Bonnie Blue Farms and Fall Creek Farms, that offer goat meat for sale, as well as most of the latin carnicerias around town. If you buy your meat from one of these latter locations, I would recommend calling early and being very specific with your order. Otherwise, you may end up with a pile of bones, fat and not much meat. I always ask for a thigh, cut up small, and I ask for lean meat, which I usually have to pay a little extra for.
I’m sure there are other hidden gems that serve goat dishes, but my favorites are Curry Pot and Mrs. B’s Reggae Café. The Curry Pot serves up a traditional Indian goat curry that is brimming with flavor and sweet, tender chunks of goat (expect bones). Mrs. B’s Reggae Café offers a traditional Jamaican curry on the weekends that is more like a stew, packed with carrot, onion, sweet pepper, garlic and potato. Get it with a side of callaloo, festivals and a Red Stripe for a real Caribbean vacation flashback.
The bottom line is simple. Eat more goat!