Haute Goat: This meat’s finding its way to fine dining

What’s this on the specials menu? Goat?

The world’s most widely consumed red meat has historically gotten the upturned nose from haute chefs in the U.S. and their fine-dining flock. Of late, however, goat meat has been spotted in fancy restaurants all over the country. St. Louis can claim a small dot on that map, but from recent conversations with area chefs and farmers, expect goat meat to appear at more white-linen locales in the near future.

The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of goat meat, but in the last decade, there has been a nationwide jump in the number of farmers raising meat goats. According to the most recent data available from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2007, there were 3,859 farms with meat goats in Missouri. In 2002, there were only 1,852 such farms. What accounts for the more than 100 percent increase?

For starters, more cattle farmers are adopting dual grazing systems because goats complement rather than compete with cattle; they will eat weeds, brush and other vegetation that cattle don’t like.

“I was looking for a way to improve our pastures where our cattle are,” said Jeremy Parker, owner of Missouri Grass Fed Beef. Parker entered the meat goat business only last fall. The dozen or so grass-fed goats born in the spring on his DeSoto farm came onto the market in October.
Goats also fetch slightly more per pound than cows and require less acreage than other big livestock. “You can run a lot more goats on the same area you can run a cow,” said Wayne Long, who, apart from owning Soulard-based Patty Long Catering, has two large meat goat herds on farms in Texas County in south central Missouri.

Last, the steady growth of the St. Louis area’s Hispanic and Bosnian populations has resulted in an increased demand for the product. From a farmer’s perspective, why import goat when we can raise it here?

Even if market conditions mean more goat meat in Missouri, you’re probably wondering why you should eat it. According to the USDA, goat boasts 50 to 65 percent less fat than similarly prepared beef. It has 40 percent less saturated fat than chicken, even with the skin removed. It’s low in cholesterol, low in calories and high in protein. “Goat has a ton of benefits, not to mention that they are fun to pet,” said Shelly Meyer, owner of Whetstone Farms, whose boutique barnyard operation located about halfway between St. Louis and Columbia in Montgomery City includes goats, pigs, chickens, cows, turkeys and ducks.

Meyer is now in her sixth year as a small-scale goat meat producer, having raised organic pastured, free-range meat goats. “There is no junk in my goats,” Meyer said. She uses a sweet feed as a base for her herd of 50 because “it leads to a more enhanced flavor and tighter marbling in the meat. That’s been the secret to our success.”

Meyer raises a Boer-Spanish cross. The stout Boer goat has its origins in South Africa and is the most popular goat for meat, while the lighter-framed Spanish goat arrived on this continent with the Spaniards in the late 15th century and has adapted well to this environment. Parker’s herd is a Kiko-Spanish cross. The Kiko also does well in Missouri because the climate is similar to its native New Zealand, which, along with Australia, provides the majority of U.S.-imported goat meat.

Local farmers can also tout the freshness of their product; imported goat meat may have been frozen for several months. In July, Marcus and Jordan Shupp opened Garden Spot Market in the main hall at Soulard Farmers’ Market. There, the brothers sell goat meat alongside beef, pork and lamb. Their goat meat hails from Illinois farms and is butchered and inspected at Rock’s Garden Meat, their family-run shop near Mount Vernon. “It’s never been frozen. It’s never been in a box,” Jordan Shupp said. “It’s straight from the farm to our business then over here to Soulard.”

Now that fresh, local, humanely raised goat is an option, chefs are eager to place orders. Kevin Nashan, chef and owner of Sidney Street Cafe in Benton Park, has bought goat from Matt and Susan Warnecke. The Warneckes run a micro meat-goat and sheep operation (the herd size for each is up to a whopping nine) at their EIEIO Acres in Berger. Nashan featured EIEIO goat meat at the Slow Food Art of Food fundraiser in July. Looking to India for inspiration, Nashan prepared goat sliders with pickled eggplant, arugula and curry aïoli on a house-made sesame bun.

“We got the legs and the shoulders on the goat,” he said. “Instead of making a sausage, we decided to make hamburger meat with it.”

Nashan has undertaken other goat dishes at his fine-dining restaurant, including a Missouri goat trio: gnudi (dumplings made with sheep’s milk ricotta) with goat sausage, goat pockets, and goat loin or chop with natural braising juices. “Everything from sausage to braising, [from] pastas to serving a whole rack of goat – anything you can do with a pig and a lamb you can do with a goat,” he said. “Just change up the ingredients, spicing, sauces. If the product is great, it’s pretty much easy for us.”

Nashan has kindly shared his goat source with other kitchen heads. “I got a goat for Gerard [Craft] a year and a half ago, and one for Josh Galliano [of Monarch Restaurant].”

Leave it to Craft – of Niche Restaurant, Taste by Niche and soon, Brasserie by Niche – to do stuff with goats from EIEIO and Prairie Grass Farms that will make your eyes grow wide. For instance, presenting goat testicles poached in court bouillon, then split, seasoned, pan-fried and served with a bit of olive oil alongside a potato purée. “It was mild in flavor, just a hint of goat or lamb,” said a nonchalant Craft, who considers the texture of the glands to be “similar to sweetbreads, but more luxurious.” He also prefers working with goat meat as opposed to lamb or game because “it’s a lot more versatile and mild, and it adapts to more ingredients.”

Every so often, you might also spot Prairie Grass goat at Jim Fiala’s Acero in Maplewood or The Crossing in Clayton. “I will braise it and make a ragoût with some of it,” he said. “Maybe make a special goat loin. The braise is what blows people away because it tastes so good. People like the loin because it is so mild.” Look for goat meat to debut at his Terrace View restaurant downtown this month.

All of these chefs have noted some trepidation from diners upon seeing goat meat on the menu. How do they assuage those fears?

“We would tell them that it’s more flavorful and milder than lamb, but just as flavorful and rich as good beef,” said John Griffiths, chef consultant at St. Louis Restaurant Consultants, recalling the times during his stint at An American Place when the downtown restaurant turned out braised goat shoulder, pulled goat meat with pappardelle or tagliatelle pasta, and silky Moroccan tajines featuring goat meat and dried fruit. Griffiths noted that goat was better received on the tasting menu than as an à la carte offering. “It was a small amount of something new. It didn’t overwhelm them.”

“If I would have tried this two or three years ago, it would have been a difficult task,” Nashan said. “Now people are up to tasting it. Every time I put it on the menu, I sell out of it.”
An adventurous mindset is definitely a plus for chefs, too. “I want people to be a bit nervous,” said Craft, who sold out of goat testicles. “That makes it memorable and exciting.”

In the next few weeks, Brian Hardesty, executive chef at Terrene Restaurant in the Central West End, plans to offer a mixed grill so as to feature multiple cuts of goat. Hardesty is excited to be one to dish, rather than diss, goat in a fine-dining environment. “There is no ethnical preparation that is not capable of being elevated by way of expertise, by way of seasoning, marinating,” he said.

Annie Gunn’s big gun, Lou Rook III, is also eager to try out goat at the Chesterfield establishment. “The diners we have are very adventurous,” he said. “They are willing to try anything that I’m willing to try to prepare.” Rook sees goat as a nice addition to Annie Gunn’s specialty meat repertoire.

Although more big name chefs in St. Louis are discovering purveyors of locally, sustainably grown goat meat, don’t expect it on the menu every night. It’ll likely surface as an infrequent weekend special because these goat meat producers simply can’t keep up with a year-round demand, and many would rather keep their herd size manageable anyway.

“On a smaller farm we are able to flag problems quickly,” Meyer said. “We refuse to sacrifice quality for quantity. We are aiming for consistency in product and best product.”