A ruminant bleating in the distance, goat remains for Americans an afterthought, the kind of ingredient you might find in an obscure Mexican restaurant on the edge of a Texas town. It's not usual in mainstream American cooking, though, and in Madison it has typically been confined to Indian and Jamaican restaurant kitchens and has been on menus at Chautara and Dobhan for some time as well. Goat is headed for the mainstream, though.
The bearded ungulates have been nibbling westward and northward across the country in recent years. The meat enjoyed a run in Manhattan in 2008 and 2009, and has had a presence in the South for some time. Stephanie Izard of Chicago's Girl and the Goat was up for a James Beard Award this year, and her restaurant features a collection of goat dishes.
Next stop: Madison.
You'll find goat meatballs at Graze; you may spot goat bacon from the Underground Food Collective, which also featured goat in a picnic it hosted last weekend; and you'll see goat at least a couple times a month at the Madison Club.
"Goat has a pretty fantastic flavor," says Daniel Fox, executive chef at the Madison Club, who places the taste on a spectrum between beef and lamb. "I think it's less gamy than lamb."
Fox so enjoys it that last year he raised 10 Boer goats - the South African variety seems to be favored by foodies - for his kitchen. He allows that people don't often order it deliberately, so Fox includes it in fixed menus at special events. "We just did a big dinner and featured goat," said Fox last week. "Diners end up loving it."
Goat enthusiasts claim it's a healthier meat than beef and pork. "It's a low-fat, low-cholesterol meat," says Rich Fotes of Greek Acres Farm in Cambria. Fotes, who produces beef, lamb and chicken as well, has been selling Boer goat meat for a half-dozen years. He started with four goats given to him by John Priske of Fountain Prairie Farm, an award-winning producer of Scottish Highland beef. Sales picked up about five years ago at a farmers' market in Waukesha, and then in the last few years restaurants have come calling.
"It's getting to be more in demand," explains Fotes. "Restaurants have been getting interested in something different." Greek Acres' primary goat customer, Graze, has cleaned out the farm's current supply, says Fotes.
While it may be awhile before we're all getting sluggish with goat meat, it can be found at Asian and Indian groceries in town, and it can be ordered from farms and meat vendors directly. Black Earth Meat Market sources goat and slaughters it under halal guidelines. "We haven't seen a huge demand for it," admits Christopher Pax at Black Earth, "but we get a lot of orders from the Muslim community."
Ruegsegger Farms Natural Meats sells goat at its Paoli store. Ken Ruegsegger explains that he raised goats for 15 years, but gave it up a couple years ago. "They stripped the bark off my six-year-old walnut trees, and I got out," he says. He now sources from farms neighboring his Blanchardville operation.
Fox, whose husbandry efforts have turned toward various breeds of pigs at nearby farms, intends to continue serving goat he gets from Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms and from Black Earth Meat Market. When he was using his own goats at the Madison Club, Fox served goat necks, braised shanks, goat prosciutto, goat liver paté and various pickled organ meats.
A number of members have approached him about preparing goat at home, and Fox envisions a workshop demonstrating how to dress a carcass and prepare cuts. "I think we're going to follow through," muses Fox, "and have a goat class."
To order Wisconsin-raised Boer goat:
Black Earth Meat Market, Black Earth, 608-767-3940
Greek Acres Farm, Cambria, 920-348-6089
Ruegsegger Farms, Blanchardville, 608-523-4075