Goat: The New Beef
The USDA ranks beef as the highest produced red meat in the United States. In 2015 our country consumed 24.8 billion pounds of the popular animal. What determines this obvious meat of choice for Americans? Is it the widening variety offered by supermarkets? Fluctuating prices deciding yay or nay? Or a preference acquired after years of influence and culture shifts? For locally raised meat, turns out choice is dictated by the weather.
“Animals have to be close to food,” says Jeff Conrad of Riverslea Farm in Epping. And the availability of food is largely governed by the weather’s effects on the harvest. In New Hampshire, farms have come a long way to obtain the agricultural promise we’re experiencing today, allowing for a variety of animals to be raised and sold locally. Cows, however, are not the most economical animal for farmers to feed and keep due to their size. Fortunately, our region supports a smaller variety with lots of attributes: the goat.
“Globally and nationally but even more importantly, in our community, there is goat readily available on a regular basis and it’s delicious, clean, lean meat,” says Matt Louis, Chef Owner of Moxy Restaurant and Franklin Oyster House in Portsmouth. “But it’s completely underutilized.”
This long misunderstood, backyard gem is a fraction of the price of beef and pork. In harmony with exploring the different ways to use goat in the kitchen, Louis’ mission is to educate people about goat meat, which carries a reputation of being gamey and tough. When most people think of cooking this red meat they think of only stewing and braising, says Louis. But it can be a very tender, versatile, delicious meat if it’s cooked correctly and processed at a young age (about one year old).
Having raised goats on Riverslea Farm since 1991 with his wife Liz, Jeff declares that goats are “easy keepers” and less costly to raise than cattle, though he admits selling goat meat was slow going in the beginning. The idea of using goat meat was foreign to many New Englanders whose meat preferences have been learned through a broken marketing system. In a profit-hungry, big business driven market, large food store chains sell meat that yields the most pounds for the best price, regardless of locality. This system nearly demolished small ruminant businesses.
But with the help of the growing eat local movement, consumers started thinking about where their food was coming from, and the long, opaque process from farm, to slaughterhouse, to supermarket wasn’t offering many answers. Now, Riverslea Farm produces anywhere from 500 to 600 sheep and goat a year, selling whole animals as well as smaller cuts for the home cook. One popular customer is Louis, who uses goat meat as often as possible in his two restaurants. He also sources from Flying Goat in Maine and Hickory Nut Farm in Lee.
Husband and wife run the latter, where they raise a variety of goat breeds for milk to produce cheese, yo-goat-gurt, fudge, candy, and soaps. The farm uses unpasteurized goat milk to conserve beneficial nutrients, 100% culture in their yo-goat-gurt for a balance that promotes gut and inflammatory health, and 100% cocoa in their fudge. Although they don’t raise their goats for meat, Hickory Nut Farm has a huge presence in New Hampshire’s goat industry. All products are sold either online at hickorynutfarm.com or at their Stall Store in Lee.
Louis sources many of his cheeses from Hickory Nut Farm as another way to “celebrate the foodstuffs of our community” in his restaurants. The chef says, “In a restaurant setting where every day the conversation is about the cost of goods rising and expenses going through the roof, the question [arises], how is it sustainable?” His answer seems to be simple: Stay curious and eat local.