Like most Caribbean foodies, I love a hearty goat curry, sumptuous stew goat, or a juicy goat roti. In fact, those are the only ways a lot of Caribbean people have ever eaten goat. Some years ago, I came across a few recipes for barbecued goat, roast leg of goat, and goat chops that got me extremely excited. So off I went to find a butcher in London who would sell me a leg of goat. I tried about five butchers, but they only sold goat already cut up. When I was about to give up, I found one who had the leg, but here’s the catch: I had to buy half of a goat.
What should I do? I’d already set my mind on having this great leg of goat, but half a goat was a bit much. Eventually, I called a few friends and convinced them to buy some of the goat meat from me.
I lovingly seasoned the leg of goat with rosemary, garlic, smoked paprika, and other spices. Slow roasting goat brings out a more nuanced flavour profile. I thought it would be slightly gamey, but it wasn’t. It was very earthy and unbelievably rich for such a lean meat. Also, because it’s so lean, you have to baste the leg occasionally and roast the goat at a low temperature — about 150 degrees Celsius or 300 Fahrenheit — for a few hours. Since that time, I’ve longed to cook with different cuts of goat, but here in Trinidad the art of butchering goat is a rare one.
What got me thinking again about gourmet-style goat was a slew of articles in foreign food publications talking about a newfound appreciation for the meat and its increasing visibility on menus in more upscale restaurants. To see whether this was the case here — since foodie trends in the metropole don’t take long to hit the Caribbean — I had a chat with award-winning Trinidadian chef Khalid Mohammed, the owner of Chaud, a fine-dining restaurant in the Port of Spain suburb of St Ann’s.
“I used to have goat on my menu at Chaud,” Mohammed says. “If you go into a three-star Michelin restaurant now, you’ll get goat, but it’s not a Trinidad thing, it’s a trend that’s going on out there. It’s also big in Italian cuisine.
“Goat in Trinidad is like what beef clod was twenty years ago,” Mohammed goes on. A couple decades ago, the only beef most people would try cooking with was clod, so you braised it, curried it, or stewed it.
Mohammed once had a dish called Goat Dougla on the Chaud menu. Dougla is a term used to describe a person of mixed African and Indian heritage, so in Mohammed’s kitchen, the Goat Dougla recipe entailed marinating the goat as you would for curry, but cooking in a burned sugar–based stew that’s typical of Afro-Creole cooking in T&T. Mohammed also once owned a restaurant called Chaud Creole, where he experimented with a high-end menu using mainly local ingredients, including goat.
“I used to have a rack of goat on the Chaud Creole menu,” he recalls. “I had a local supplier doing rack of goat for me. The problem was that you couldn’t get it one week, and one day the eye of the rack was big, on another day it was small. It wasn’t consistent. But that’s definitely the way I was going a few years ago. I absolutely think goat should be more on our menus. I went to an Italian restaurant abroad and I saw goat ragout and goat ravioli,” he says with excitement.
“In the big picture, I think we should be very close to accepting goat in a variety of ways on our menus. Having said that, however, and based on my experience with Chaud Creole, I believe Trinis think there are certain foods that should be cheap. I’m not sure — especially these days — too many people would pay top dollar for a rack of goat. More people probably need to understand the cuts, and that you have prime cuts and off cuts — some are cheaper and some are more expensive. To get rack of goat and leg of goat now, there would have to be an artisan farmer who is breeding the goats specially and offering a consistent product to restaurants.”
There’s a lot of goat in the local markets, but, surprisingly, not much of it is actually produced here. In T&T, local goat accounts for just about four per cent, with the rest coming from Australia.
Local goat is not produced on an industrial scale in Trinidad, and there is a demand for the meat at a particular price, says John Borely, head of Small Ruminant Research at T&T’s Ministry of Agriculture. In T&T, at the moment, imported goat from Australia retails for around US$4 a pound, while locally produced goat goes for about US$6 a pound. “People who run roti shops, or sell food on a commercial scale, go for the imported goat,” Borely says.
In Jamaica, where the consumption of delicacies like curry goat and mannish water (a soup that is reputed to have aphrodisiac qualities) is extremely high, local production accounts for fifteen per cent of the total goat consumed, says Kenneth King, president of the Small Ruminants Association of Jamaica. “The local goats are a traditional market in Jamaica. Goats come in very handy. If your child was born today, you’d kill a goat. If the child was christened, you’d kill a goat. When that child passes an exam, you’d kill a goat,” King explains. “At every occasion, you have curry goat. The demand is really high.”
In other parts of the world, goats are more prized for their milk and cheese. Goat’s milk has been called a superfood by a lot of health and nutrition experts. One website, healthyfocus.org, says “Drinking goat’s milk will give you a healthy dose of the minerals and vitamins that your body needs. It contains thirty-three per cent of your recommended daily value of calcium as well as large amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, zinc, and selenium. It is also a great source of vitamins A, C, D, and B2 or Riboflavin.”
People with lactose intolerance often turn to goat’s milk as an alternative, but it’s expensive and, in some places, not consistently available. It’s easier to find goat’s cheese, a favourite for chefs, caterers, and home cooks. With that awareness, goat farmers are investing in milk herds to supply the increased demand for milk — not just for regular consumers, but for niche markets like artisan cheesemakers.
In the Caribbean, goat farmers — being aware of the demand for products like goat’s cheese and milk — have been investing in dairy herds and looking at more opportunities for value-added products. King, who himself has a small herd in Falmouth, Jamaica, explained that more farmers are looking beyond curry goat and mannish water.
“Farmers realised that if you started using cuts, you get more value for the carcass. What they’ve also discovered is that the cheapest part of the goat chain is the meat,” he says. “The skin, for example, can be used for leather — very expensive leather. And the milk can be used for so many other products, like yogurts, cheeses, cosmetics, soap, and stuff like that. People are now looking more at intensive-type operations, thinking about how to maximise the value of the herds.”
King explains that the Jamaica government has been encouraging the growth of milking herds. “Our native goats here are a good mixture of Nubians, Alpines, Boers — and those are primarily for meat purposes. The government is in the process of helping with breeds like the Saanen that will make an impact on improving the quantity of milk. That is being actively pursued. There are some Jamaicans who are making cheeses, yogurts, and things like that. It will be taking off, I’d say, in the next year or so, because the challenge now is the availability of milk. There’s not enough milk at the moment.”
King is boosting his own herd with some Saanen goats, so he can bring his milk yield up to six litres per goat, from four litres at present. “I think in about a year’s time we will have twenty or thirty farmers who are making more of that value added from the milk,” he says. It’s the same in Trinidad, where some farmers are now able to supply small specialty groceries and supermarkets with milk.
So goat-rearing is on the up and up, and more people are getting involved as they see the benefits. Whether it’s for high-end cuts of meat or dairy, the market is wide open — and this is yet another thing we can make distinctively Caribbean.