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Slow Food Charleston’s Goatober Roast this past Wednesday evening at Palmetto Brewing Company had it all: beer, decorative twinkle lights, and the V-Tones playing their self-described “ukulele hot club jug band vaudeville ragtime neo-retro-postpostmodern beachfront quasi-primitive anachronistic revolutionary anti-inflammatory mass catharsis jazz freakout and philharmonic group therapy session.” Whew. But considering that we’d all gathered here in an alley to eat a bunch of goat, the band didn’t seem that weird.
Patrick Martins of Heritage Foods USA gave a talk about sustainability and food sourcing, accompanied by his friend and fellow writer Mike Edison on the theremin (possibly marking the first time someone has given a speech backed up by the same instrument that was used to create the Star Trek theme song). This only further proved that goat nerds (myself included) are a strange brew. The two collaborated on Martin’s new book The Carnivore’s Manifesto: Eating Well, Eating Responsibly, and Eating Meat.
The event was held to raise awareness of Heritage’s No Goat Left Behind project, which is trying to remedy the unnecessary slaughter of kid goats and the wastefulness of the U.S. goat industry. Here in the states, there are hundreds of goat farms, the vast majority of them dairies that produce cheese. The problem is, to make goat cheese, you have to have milk — so dairy farmers are only interested in keeping their ladies, while most of the gents are sent off to be auctioned for meat at a very young age. Sometimes, the kids are simply killed at birth to unburden the farmer from caring for the unmarketable goats.
It’s odd that eating goat isn’t more pervasive in our culture. It’s a bright, grassy-tasting meat and a lean source of protein. Goat is the most widely-consumed livestock in the world, but Americans are still developing a taste for it. Confoundingly, most of the goat we do eat is coming from Australia and New Zealand. We have a crazy high goat count in our own backyards, getting destroyed uselessly or requiring an outrageous source of time and energy to harvest.
The No Goat Left Behind program was started up in New England, where goat farms dot every landscape. Cheesemonger goddess Anne Saxelby of NYC and Heritage Radio Network’s Erin Fairbanks noticed what was going on and decided to do something about it. They’ve partnered with 12 goat farmers across the East Coast to make it easier for restaurants to source, purchase, and use local meat. This, in turn, slowly introduces goat into the mainstream diet. Goatober celebrates the project while raising awareness and promoting better use and treatment of our goat population.
The chefs at Wednesday’s event certainly put their goat meat to good use. Chefs from Indaco, Middleton Place, the Culinary Institute of Charleston, Outta My Huevos, and The Lot all prepared goat dishes, each a uniquely crafted testament to the meat’s goodness. There was Vietnamese Goat Curry, Chivo Tapeado (stewed goat), Goat Saag, Pulled Goat, and even a “surf-and-turf” dish of Sea Island Goat, which brought together flavors that are historically indigenous to this region — goat and shrimp stock. Most of the chefs cooked their goat low and slow, into a kind of stewed consistency, which is a natural answer — it isn’t a particularly tender animal, and it needs loving care to avoid becoming stringy.
However, the stand-out was the goat sausage with goat cheese grits, maitake mushrooms, and perfectly cooked brussels sprouts. Banquet Chef Cre Moore of Middleton Place made the dish, using smoked goat shanks, pork fat, and spices for the sausage, which crowned a mound of creamy, slightly tangy grits. The flavors married happily and will live happily ever after.
The event was a wacky, fun little happening, and I hope it grows. When it comes around next year, I’ll be attending. If you like drinking craft beer in alleyways, Star Trek, vaudeville ragtime neo-retro-postpostmodern beachfront tunes, and goats, you can come too.