Roast a Goat, Support a Farm

by Darrin DuFord Sep 13, 2011
When a friend contacted me and told me that he would be bringing seven live goats — and just for good measure, five carcasses — to my city, my first reaction was to wait for a punch line.

But then that friend was Tim Patterson, Director of Advancement at Vermont’s Sterling College, so I knew something more serious was forthcoming –even when he added that the journey would end in an eight-hour goat roast in a Park Slope, Brooklyn backyard.

Before I get to the details of that improvised, spit-skewered marvel of urban gastronomy, let us consider the impetus for the three-hundred-mile journey: penises — goat penises, to be taxonomically specific. They are undesirable at goat dairies across Vermont, because any goat born with one cannot give any milk. According to Tim, the male dairy goats in Vermont are either killed at birth or are just left to starve to death. It’s a practice better known by its less menacing term: culling. (That is something to ponder the next time you enjoy a presumably guilt-free spread of goat cheese on a bagel.)

All the goats Tim brought to New York City came equipped with the dreaded appendage. Eleven students from Sterling College’s Animal Science course joined Tim, and the entire entourage of humans and goats served as the last step of a hands-on project to test the marketability of the meat of young male dairy goats they had raised at the college. If successful, Vermont farmers may find an extra avenue for income while at the same time retiring the act of culling.

Such a project, far from desk-work of a classroom, seems less of a surprise when noting that it emerged from a college with solar-powered barns and its own farm-to-table culinary program. Overall, 25% of the food served in Sterling College’s dining hall is grown and raised on their own farmland, a challenging figure to achieve in northern New England’s short but sweet growing season.

At the same time, the creation of the project spawned a beneficial side effect: a spotlight on goat meat itself. Even though goat meat has less cholesterol and saturated fat than beef, pork, or chicken, and is free of the growth hormones found in industrial meat, goat still doesn’t enjoy the mainstream appeal of the big three. That’s too bad, because I’ve found that young goat chops, when barbecued to medium, offer a sweet flavor that none of the big three can touch.

My fondness for goat meat only ramped up my fascination with the progress of Tim’s project. Their first objective in New York City was to find a live animal market, and perhaps a butcher shop. For those who are wondering, yes, live animal markets do exist among the outer boroughs, but they sell mostly chickens. The markets are so popular with the various immigrant communities of the city — Ecuadorian, Colombian, Mexican, Haitian, Indian, and beyond — that the market near my apartment in Queens answers the high demand with a banner stating “Buy ten chickens, get one free.”

Tim and crew managed to find a market in the Bronx, more or less along their route from Vermont to Manhattan. One hurdle cleared, but more awaited them. Would someone buy an 18-pound goat when shopping for a chicken? Can a New York butcher, paying New York rent, procure the goats at a price that will allow him to sell the meat at a price his customers can afford?

Bringing down a gaggle of live goats across state lines and selling them in a greenery-starved city (a trip to which Tim referred as the “Great Goat Road Rally”) matches Tim’s commando style. A veteran editor of Matador Network, Tim is also a writer whose passion had previously brought him to Burma, where he taught underground journalism workshops to college students.

Smelling a little goaty after a three-hundred-mile livestock haul did not slow him down. “We knew the logistics would be chaotic, and we were determined to go with the flow,” he recounted. “When I was looking for a place to keep a goat carcass cold in Brooklyn, a walk-in freezer materialized just off 4th Avenue. Success in travel, farming and education often depends on a certain non-attachment — if you have a rigid goal or preconceived outcome, you will probably be stressed and disappointed when things change, whereas if you are open to all possibilities, the world will open up for you.”

So how did the project turn out? After a few days in the city, all the goats found new owners — a butcher in Chelsea scored two, a Brooklyn restaurant specializing in charcuterie bought one, and the rest ended up sold in the Bronx — save a carcass that Tim reserved for the barbecue. The purveyor has to sample the goods, after all.

Which brings us to the backyard of a Park Slope brownstone. When I arrived, I found Tim and his host bare-chested as they repositioned the carcass by tightening or loosening strings tied to whatever structural support they could find in the yard — fire escape, fence, patient human. I found an oddly satisfying delight at the sight of an 18-pound goat, covered in a caramelized glaze of curry and sugar, roasting away up the block from well-maintained Victorian turrets and a sushi restaurant. I’ll chalk up that feeling to the versatility of roast goat.

With a beer in hand, Tim gestured to the temperature gauge on top of the grill. “220 degrees. Right between ‘smoke’ and ‘barbecue.’ That’s about where it should be.” That was where it stayed for eight hours.

When they finally eased the goat off the spit, the meat had acquired a sexy jiggle that only ridiculously slow-cooked meat can attain. As a dozen guests tried to decide whether roast goat goes better with red wine or beer, I thought I could hear pigs across the Northeast expressing a collective snort of relief, joining together in a mantra of “Eat more goat!” The tender meat even possessed soft, glistening fat redolent of lechón with a surprisingly creamy mildness. It took so well to the mesquite chips that I may side with the pigs on this one.

Sterling’s website states that their college community “combines structured academic study with experiential challenges.” I can’t think of better experiential success than a satisfied palate, along with clothes permeated by the smoky-sweet scent of a goat roast.

How to find your goat

If you live in the New York area and want to buy goat, but cannot wait for the next Great Goat Road Rally, there are several goat dairy farms in New York state that already sell meat from young males.

Two are Lynnhaven Dairy Farm and Patches of Star, both selling chops and stew meat at the Union Square Greenmarket.

Their goat chops have a natural sweetness and are very lean and therefore taste best when not cooked past medium. Young goat stew meat is best when simmered for two hours. For my version Guyanese recipe for pepperpot — a stew that is great with goat — there’s a step by step post about it on my blog.

I’ve found that goat works in any recipe that calls for lamb. Regardless of the cuts you choose, the act of grilling up goat meat sourced from a dairy farmer helps to keep the culling away. And the goaty grill smoke just might make your neighbors jealous.

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