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Goat: poor man's beef no more.

All goats are mischievous thieves, gatecrashers and trespassers. Also, they possess individual character, intelligence, and capacity for affection which can only be matched by the dog. Having once become acquainted with them I would as soon farm without a dog as without a goat.

--DAVID MACKENZIE, Farmer in the Western Isles.



The goat has long been a symbolic representation of humanity's darkest and most transcendent characteristics. Folklore, myth and religion are littered with images or the goat, and depending upon the narrative, the creature has embodied both our most reviled and resplendent qualities. In some stories, the goat personifies sensuality gentleness, vitality, fertility and abundant energy. In others, the creature represents temptation, lust, stubbornness and evil.

Zeus was suckled by the goat Amalthea, who exemplified abundance and plenty. Goats were represented as draft animals on the walls of Pompeii, with one image illustrating Bacchus reclining in a cupid driven chariot drawn by goats. The virile nymph Pan, Greek god of fields, woods and flocks, is depicted as a man with the legs, tail and horns of a goat. Thor, the Scandinavian god of thunder and war, is pulled by a chariot drawn by goats that also supply mead, the drink of the gods. The Chinese goat spirit, Yang Ching, is depicted as a goat with a white face and horns and a long flowing beard. Yang Ching embodies yang, the masculine, or solar principle of Chinese doctrine.

Whether the goal, or "copra hircus," is serving as the redeemer or evil incarnate, one thing is certain: The animal has captivated our imaginations ever since it was domesticated over ten thousand years ago in the parched valleys of Central Asia, Only the dog was domesticated before the goat. Perhaps because of the goat's impressive ability to adapt to a vast array of harsh environments and extreme geographies, it has been embraced in nearly every corner of the world for many uses, including meat, fiber, leather, dairy, fuel, sinew and tools.


Today there are over 300 varieties of goats. A few of the dominant breeds include the dual-purpose "Nubian," a popular choice for both dairy and protein needs. The peculiar "Tennessee Wooden Leg" suffers from "hereditary myotonia," a condition that incites its muscles to stiffen when frightened; this can cause the goat to fall over, and is why this bread is sometimes referred to as the "fainting goat." The West African "Pygmy" arrived in America as a by-product of the slave trade and is used almost exclusively for meat production, as is the "Spanish" variety which, in the United States, is bred primarily in Texas. "Angora" is highly esteemed for its fiber, which include mohair and cashmere. The "Alpine," "Saanen," "Toggenburg," and "Oberhasli" are European dairy goats frequently referred to in the United States as "Swiss Breeds".

The Spanish introduced the goat to the New World in the [] century. One descendent of these stocks is "LaMancha," the popular goat of Spanish missionaries based in southern California. New Zealand and Australia have massive populations of feral goat stock, which supply America with nearly 100% of its imported goat meat. No discussion of goat varieties would be complete without mentioning the "Boer," a South African goat whose name means "farm" in Dutch. Introduced to the United States in the mid-1990s, Boer is highly valued for its meat and temperament. Due to such appealing characteristics as a high muscle to bone ratio, its amiable disposition and reputation as a prolific breeder, this variety is often crossbred with other goats.


Although there are hundreds of goat varieties, they have certain universal characteristics. All goats have slit-shaped pupils which assist in peripheral depth perception. Their tails point up, and both male and female goats have beards. Some varieties also have wattles, which is a piece of dangling skin on either the chin or both sides of the neck. The wattle serves no purpose and is considered an evolutionary leftover. Most goat varieties have horns, which consist of the living protein keratin. Horns are a predominantly male characteristic, but some females also have them. A hornless male is referred to as a "polled" goat.

The goat is a ruminant with a four-chambered stomach. Its digestive system is able to break down an impressive array of materials for nutrients, but contrary to popular belief, the goat is actually a rather finicky gourmand. It prefers the tips of shrub and tree branches, and also broad leaf plants, but in a pinch, the goat will eat almost any type of green vegetation, Alfalfa is its preferred choice for hay. Due to its preference to graze on trees and shrubs as opposed to grassland, the goat is more similar to deer in its grazing habits than its closer cousin, sheep.

The misconception that a goat will eat anything that crosses its path is most likely a by-product of its intelligent, inquisitive nature. A goal will explore with its tongue and prehensile upper lip anything new in its environment. This sometimes results in the accidental consumption of items such as burtons, clothing and shoes. The goat's insatiable curiosity also inspires it to explore every inch of its fencing, nearly always discovering any weakness. This makes it both an adept escape artist, and a rancher's perpetual headache. The clever goat is also easily housebroken and can be trained as a draft animal.


Goat meat is dark with a flavor that is similar to mutton, although goat meat is slightly greasier. Meat from adult goats tastes gamy, which is why the flesh of younger goats, or "kids," is often preferred because it is milder, less gamy and more tender than adult goat meat. There is an estimated 40 pounds of meat on the average adult goat. Goat meat has 50% less fat than beef and is highly muscled, which makes it conducive to such long cooking preparations as braising or roasting. Goat meat has the same grading system as cattle: "prime," "choice," and "good." Unlike cattle, however, there is very little price difference between heavier and lighter goats.

Goat meat has been incorporated for millennia into countless recipes around the world. Jamaican curried goat, which includes onions, chilis and a blend of spices, is a national dish prepared for special occasions. Jamaicans' use of goat meat was inspired by both the animal's introduction by the Spanish, and Asian indentured servants who lived on the island in the mid-[] century. Although Jamaicans are fond of this festive curried goat dish, the animal is incorporated into few other recipes.

It's a different story in much of Mexico, Central and South America, where goat is savored in a wide array of recipes, none more famous than spit roasted "cabrito," which is a kid goat between one and seven months of age. Spit roasted cabrito is basted with marinade to infuse flavor as it's slowly turned throughout the cooking process. At festive events, cabrito is sometimes pit roasted, as this method does not require the diligent attention of its spit roasted counterpart, Mexico is the capital of spit roasted cabrito, while Monterrey is its epicenter. In this city, countless restaurants offer "Monterrey style" cabrito. No matter where it's prepared, cabrito proves extremely versatile: It's folded into tortillas, dipped into salsas, served as-is, or shredded over rice and beans. Roasted cabrito is also popular in other parts of the world, including Greece, the Middle East, the Balkans, Italy and Spain. In Portugal, "chanfana" is a roasted cabrito stew prepared for special occasions.


The Philippines is another hub of goat-themed restaurants. Many establishments serve "caldereta," a stew derived from a traditional Spanish recipe. A tamarind goat soup recipe is also popular, as is "goat kinilaw," a variation of fish ceviche in which goat meat is marinated in vinegar. On the Philippine llocano Islands, bitter goat bile, or partly digested greens from its stomach, is incorporated into their goat kinilaw recipes.

The goat was introduced to Britain during the Neolithic period, and while it has never been held in the same esteem as caws, pigs and sheep, it was included in the nation's recipes for thousands of years. It was served roasted, and as an ingredient in pasties, stews and soups. Its haunches were also salted and hung to dry in the same manner as ham. In Wales, goat "hams" were referred to as "hung venisons," perhaps because goat was generally considered wild game in this region, and was hunted and cooked in the same manner as deer. Feral goat populations still survive in the upland regions of contemporary Britain.


In the late [] century, goat meat lost its appeal in Britain and much of the rest of Western Europe, due to the perception that it was "poor man's beef." This bias was carried with immigrants to America and is perhaps one reason why until recently goat meat has never been as popular a protein in the United States as it is in much of the rest of the world. Over the past few decades this stereotype is slowly eroding as new waves of recent immigrants who value goat as an integral part of their diets demand resources. Muslim, Hispanic, Asian, Caribbean and African populations throughout the United States are helping raise the goat's standing in America. As ethnic markets grow, so too will the request for goat meat.

Demand for goal meat is growing at an estimated 6% per year. From 1996-2006 demand increased by 51%, In the last decade, the United States has gone from being a goal exporter to an importer, and in the last 15 years goat imports have increased an average of 16% annually. Imported goat meat sets the floor for domestic goat meat prices. The USDA does not tally goat meat statistics, but it is estimated that today's American market runs a! an annual deficit of 500,000 goats, Two of America's largest goat auctions are held in Son Angelo, Texas, and New Holland, Pennsylvania. In 2006 Americans consumed an estimated 477 million pounds of domestic and imported goat meat. Domestic goat production fulfills approximately half of this quota.

The success of the commercial market depends heavily on the Fruition of the pure-bread Boer goat industry, since both pure-bred Boers as well as Boer-crossbreeds consistently sell at auction as "Selection 1" goats, which indicates a high meal to bone ratio. The meat quality of breeds crossed with Boers is virtually always enhanced. Another factor of the American goat meat industry's success is its improved infrastructure that includes the proliferation of slaughterhouses, auction houses and enhanced channels of distribution.

Since consumers do not like the direct association of meat with the animal it is derived from, another factor that could potentially increase goat's popularity would be to refer to it with a euphemism such as "chevron," "cabrito," or "carpetto," in much the same way as "pig" is called "pork" and "cow" is referred to as "beef." Other techniques that might contribute to increased demand include marketing goat to health conscious consumers as a lean protein, and incorporating goat meat into ready-to-eat meals.

The inquisitive goat, so revered and reviled in our most ancient stories, is finally getting the recognition it deserves in America as consumers discover goat meat's many virtues. As the appearance of goat on menus and in supermarket isles across the nation increase, our perception of it as "poor man's beef" will be replaced by our recognition of its excellent flavor and nutritional benefits. It is virtually certain that in the years to come the goat will be more closely associated with its gastronomic virtues than with its undeserved reputation for stubbornness and temptation.


On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the goat is asked to vanquish the burden of sin.

Traditionally, Jews sacrificed one goat on Yom Kippur and released another, which was charged with carrying away the community's misdeeds into the wilderness.

This is the origin of the word "scapegoat," which is a universal symbol of absolution that emerges in myriad places, from the rites of ancient Babylon to contemporary Japan. In Christian doctrine, Christ serves as the scapegoat who vanquishes the world of its sin.
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Author:Mackenzie, David
Publication:Art Culinaire
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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