Billy the Kid: Not Wanted Dead or Alive

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Illustration: Bambi Edlund
Illustration: Bambi Edlund


In 1980 Alice Waters put what Wikipedia calls the country’s first goat cheese salad on her menu, and in the 30 years since, the delicious dairy of the nanny goat has found a welcome place in the national dairy case. Chevre is the beet’s standby dance partner, supermarkets stock goat yogurt, Martha Stewart makes goat cheese caramels and goat cheesecake is a signature dessert at Babbo.

But what about goat meat? The country’s new taste for goat dairy has brought about a blossoming of new herds, and the facts of life mean that half the kids born to milking mothers every season are baby billies. While young females can grow up to join the milking herd, a single male can keep a hundred or more females bred, so male kids are essentially a waste product.

Farmers who raise the males for meat are lucky to break even. It takes resources to raise goats to eight months, the age by which they’re big enough to butcher, and then to slaughter and find a market for them. Says Angela Miller, whose award-winning Consider Bardwell cheese is a favorite at Per Se, “We raised 50 boys last year and we’ll have at least double that by May. It’s a hassle, to say the least.”

The problem is unique to goat farms. Cow dairies can market bull calves as veal, and on sheep dairies little rams become lamb chops. But there’s just not much market for goat meat in America.

There should be. If you ask anyone from Greece, Yugoslavia, the Caribbean, Africa or South America, you learn that around the world the goat is prized for its legendary ability to make delectable milk and meat practically out of thin air. Unlike grazing animals that require acres of grass, the goat is a browser; it can be turned loose in almost any landscape and thrive. Goats can pull a cart, tote a bale, provide rich dairy and, when nanny’s milking days are over, her meat is delicious.

Yet Americans persist in thinking that beef, poultry and pork are the only options in the protein portfolio. In recent decades, goat eaters have arrived on the tides of immigration from Latin America and Africa. But while tortillas translated easily into the American lexicon, cabrito has not.

Some chefs are trying to change that. Zak Pellaccio’s goat belly tacos got rave reviews, as do Scott Conant’s moist-roasted “capretto” at Scarpetta. Good goat rivals lamb’s delicate flavor and tender texture, and it’s a better value.

This spring, thousands of male kids will be born on goat dairies, and come fall they’ll be on the market. If enlightened eaters get to know goat, they’ll stand to benefit as much as the farmers. So look for goat. Ask for it in restaurants, cook it at home and savor the knowledge that you’re helping farmers raise meat with big flavor but a small carbon footprint.

It’s time to get your goat—or cabrito, or chevriot, or chevron, or whatever you want to call it. As long as you call it dinner.

Ben Jay

Ben Jay is a freelance journalist and photographer. In addition to Edible, he’s also contributed to WNYC’s The Leonard Lopate Show, Gothamist, Deadspin, the Village Voice, and more. His hobbies include dark beer and brisket.

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