From pigeon to pig trotters, the range of meats on Charleston’s restaurant menus has expanded dramatically in recent years. One thing that is still rarely seen, though, is goat.
Chef Robert Stehling wants to change that. On Sunday, October 14th, he’s staging a “Goatober” dinner at Hominy Grill to highlight the sustainability and deliciousness of what he’s calling the “livestock of the future.”
The event is a collaboration with Heritage Foods USA, a sustainable meat broker in New York, and co-founder Patrick Martins will be on hand to help Stehling spread the gospel of goat.
Martins founded Slow Food USA in 1989, and he spun Heritage Foods out of that organization. It started as a marketing program to help small farmers sell heritage breeds of turkeys like the Bourbon Red and the Jersey Buff, and its efforts soon expanded to pastured-raised pigs and lamb. “He’s a remarkable guy,” Stehling says of Martins, “and does a great job at connecting up livestock producers and chefs.”
In 2011, Heritage Foods USA launched a program called No Goat Left Behind with the twin aims of helping out goat cheese producers and introducing American diners to goat meat. To produce milk required for cheesemaking, female goats must have babies. This creates a lot of unwanted males as a sort of by-product of the dairy business, and the No Goat Left Behind program is striving to create a reliable market for them.
And thus “Goatober.” The kids are born in the early spring, graze on pastures all summer, and by October are ready for, well … being transformed into tasty treats.
Stehling says that for the past few years he’s been slowly introducing his Hominy Grill customers to goat meat, and a goat dinner seemed like a great way to kick it into higher gear. He’s found that if diners just give goat a chance they really fall in love with it. “People are surprised,” he says. “They expect it to be gamier. It’s closer to beef, much more mild than people anticipate. Their first reaction is ‘wow’, and they get excited.”
Stehling is also trying to introduce Heritage Foods’ goat into other restaurants in Charleston, and while in town Patrick Martins will spend time meeting other chefs and sharing goat with them, too.
For the Hominy Grill dinner, Stehling plans to open with his own version of a Caribbean classic: goat head soup. He’ll follow that up with a grilled loin on a salad with arugula and goat cheese and finish things off with some barbecued goat shoulders. He’s still working on a few other treats, like appetizers for sharing (maybe “some sort of fried, savory liver bits,” he told me) plus a dessert and wine pairings for each course.
The dishes will highlight the versatility of goat meat as an ingredient. “You’ll get to experience it in different ways,” Stehling says. “The loin will be fresh and grilled medium rare, while the soup will be rich, gelatinous, deep, dark and mysterious.” In between courses, Patrick Martins will tell the story of the No Goat Left Behind program and his quest to introduce more diners to goat.