Agile and able
Goats are highly intelligent creatures, extremely agile, tough, and able to survive just about anywhere. Thought to be one of the earliest animals to be domesticated, they are an excellent source of meat, milk and wool. Historically their hides have been used as parchment and for carrying water and wine, and their intestines were fashioned into strings for musical instruments and used for surgical stitches. The meat from the animal is lean – and, like lamb, particularly good in spring – while goat milk is both well suited to human consumption and also makes delicious yoghurt and cheese.
The meat from these amazing animals is one of the few not associated with religious or dietary taboos, making it one of the most consumed meats in the world. In Australia, goats arrived with the First Fleet as a domestic herd but soon spread and happily settled throughout the country, being ideally suited to our harsh terrain. These feral animals have bred and adapted to the land, created a hardy herd that now makes up a large percentage of all goats in Australia.
Browsing, not grazing
Goats are a hoofed herbivore closely related to sheep and, in some parts of Asia, the meat from both animals is used interchangeably and referred to as mutton. The curious nature of goats have given them a reputation of eating everything in their path; in fact, they do like to taste everything just to make sure and they will eat grass, but ideally their preferred food is vines, woody shrubs and the tips of plants.
Most goat meat that is available to us comes from wild goats, often referred to by the more appealing name of ‘rangeland’. Meat from these goats tends to have a stronger, rangy flavour and can be a little tough; the majority of it is exported and labeled simply as ‘goat’ irrespective of age, sex and where it’s from. However, farmed goat is increasingly available, and from these we get a subtler product and more information regarding feed and age.
Young goats that have only been fed on their mother’s milk are referred to as capretto, an Italian term meaning kid. Capretto meat is sweet, soft and delicate with a lactic quality perfect for gentle spring cooking. Slightly older animals (from about six months), that have been milk fed and then weaned, are called chevon, a French term, and the meat from these has a slightly stronger, grassy flavour. Animals older than this, similar to hogget or mutton, have meat that is stronger in flavour and better suited to slower cooking techniques.
When you start looking at goats with this amount of detail you see how the seasons, feed and age affect the meat. This in turn should influence how you cook the meat and the flavours that you pair with it.
To eat a goat or wear its coat
Although the meat from any breed of goat can be eaten, there are two main varieties that are most commonly farmed, Kalahari Reds and Boer. Boer goats are by far the most prevalent. The South African breed thrives in Australia and the goats are said to be fairly docile and fast growing, useful qualities in a farmed animal.
Dairy goats come from different breeds that lactate more readily and are generally European in lineage. The milk from goats is closer in structure to human milk than any other animal and it contains less lactose than cow’s milk. It is more easily digestible for humans due to its smaller fat globules; it is also naturally homogenised, with the small fat particles evenly distributed throughout the milk. This is why it produces a very smooth, creamy product when made into cheese. Goat’s milk products do have a distinctive flavour and smell that can really only be described as goaty.
And then there are the goats bred for their much-prized wool from which mohair and cashmere are made; soft, luxurious and warm wools that that are labour intensive to produce and generally fairly expensive.
It hasn’t all been good for goats. They have historically been associated with debauchery – think the lusty god Pan from Greek mythology, who was half-human, half-goat – and were often used as a sacrificial animal. Their meat is popular around the world but not in Australia, possibly due to the market historically consisting of rangeland products, giving consumers the impression that goat meat is strongly flavoured and tough, when in fact it can can be sweet and nutty. Young goat is tender, and older cuts become deliciously so when cooked at low temperatures for longer periods of time.
Goat is a versatile meat that can be used with many different cooking techniques and flavour combinations. Young goats are popular in Italy and Spain simply roasted over a spit and traditionally eaten at Easter, which falls in spring in the northern hemisphere. Goat is often used in curries; in Nepal goat curry is a national dish, while the Jamaican version is made for parties and celebrations. In Egypt and Morocco, goat is more commonly cooked as a stew with strong spices. And while India does wonderful goat curries, other treatments, such as braised goat leg, are also popular.
Cook the recipes
Photography by Sharyn Cairns. Styling by Lee Blaylock. Food preparation by Peta Gray. Creative concept by Lou Fay.
Always on the hunt for the next vegetable to pickle, follow O Tama Carey on Instagram.
View previousThe Seasonal Cook columns and recipes.