Mention goat meat and many people turn up their noses. Even those who profess a love of lamb express ambivalence. The two animals have a lot in common, especially in flavour, but on the way to market their paths split. Lamb went the prestige route, while goat followed a rockier path. The reasons are rooted in colonialism – lamb grazed on the pastoral English countryside, and goat was beloved in the colonies.
Although goat meat has been a mainstay for many cuisines, its production has been gaining popularity in Canada, growing by a respectable 5 per cent annually since 2016 according to the Canadian Goat Meat Association. While it’s not likely to push pork out of the top spot globally, its modest growth will continue in part as a result of increasing environmental concerns about intensive animal farms. Goat meat is also a healthier alternative to some meats. As well, goats are browsers and eat what cattle won’t, so they make good pasture companions as they don’t compete for food. In fact, from the same size pasture, goats produce more meat than cows.
For many, the gateway to goat meat is the fork-tender West Indian curry, with potatoes saturated by the spicy yellow broth. Before coddling in a soft-griddled roti, the stew’s given a baptismal sprinkling of scotch-bonnet hot sauce. Its rich flavour comes from cooking the meat on the bone, and that’s mostly what is available at the grocery store, cubed and frozen. It comes from Australia, the world’s largest exporter of goat meat. The animals are older with a mutton-like flavour, and the meat is cheap because the goats are wild, considered a nuisance species in the outback.
Beyond the traditional curry, goat meat is finding its way into all kinds of dishes, including a kind of fusion by chef Bashir Munye. At Somali restaurant Istar in Toronto, Munye serves Ontario goat shoulder marinated in ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend. He steams it at low temperature until meltingly tender, and then roasts it to form a crisp, caramelized crust, pairing it with a soft and rich porridge of white polenta. “As a chef-educator, my job is to show how diversity and local ingredients come together,” he says.
Until recently, there’s been little on the market to compel consumers to cook goat at home. But British goat farmer and chef James Whetlor is hoping to change that. His new cookbook, Goat, features recipes for goat goulash and kid shank, apricot and pistachio tagine. “Six years ago, when we started, no one had goat on the menu,” he says, “Now, we sell to a hundred restaurants.” He heads Cabrito, a business that takes male kid goats born into the dairy industry to sell as meat (previously they would be disposed of because they don’t produce milk). "If you eat goat cheese, you have a moral imperative to eat goat meat occasionally,” he says.
There’s an unsung quality to the meat that’s also starting to attract attention. “It’s very lean,” says Anna Haupt of Spring Valley Boer Goats in Waterford, Ont. “Goats don’t marble, so there are no fat deposits in the muscle.” Haupt’s herd is small, and the meat is sold through Teal’s Meats, the provincially inspected butcher shop her husband runs on the farm. One of her regular customers who swore he would never try it began eating it after he had a heart attack and a doctor warned him to cut down on fatty meat.
In Saskatchewan, Stuart Chutter also raises goats, but he discovered his herd of 600 serve a dual purpose: They’re crossbred for meat and weed control. He began raising goats near Melville, Sask., in 2010 because they were a low-cost entry point for a first-generation farmer, and he could sense opportunity in specialty food markets. He stumbled into contract grazing out of necessity and discovered goats love leafy spurge, an invasive weed on the prairies. “It surprised me and completely changed my business,” he says, “Turning non-productive wasteland into a valuable red-meat product is good news.”
Locals no longer see him as the crazy hippy farmer. Neighbour Ian McCreary and a group of traditional prairie cattle farmers manage 27,000 acres of grazing land near Elbow, Sask. In the days leading up to a land inspection, one of the farmers called McCreary to say the pasture was completely yellow from flowering leafy spurge. “We’re wasting our time, this is stupid,” he said. But a week later, after Chutter’s goats had grazed the land, it was green and grassy. He told McCreary, “I am convinced like never before.”
Despite these independent farms, the industry is in its infancy in Canada and finding a consistent supply is a big challenge. Still, there are some prominent chefs bringing goat to the forefront of their menus. “I braise the shoulder with rosemary and garlic, finish it with aged red wine vinegar, spoon it over polenta and serve it with golden fried artichokes and black truffle,” says Rob Rossi, chef-partner of Giulietta restaurant in Toronto. In Calgary, Matthias Fong, executive chef at River Cafe, conducts his own experiments. “I bring in the whole animal, braising the shanks, making bacon from the belly, which I use to flavour baked beans, and roast the primary cuts,” he says, “It gets rave reviews, people love the unique flavour.”
Under the influence of slow and steady growth, it’s not hard to imagine a future where goat meat is on the family dinner table once or twice a month. “It’s an industry with a lot of potential,” Haupt says. “We’re going to see more producers do it as a full-time income source, not just a sideline.”