There is a reason why Oxfam keeps asking us to give goats for Christmas: the world loves them. It likes to keep them, kill them and casserole them. Goat meat is a staple of Caribbean, Mediterranean, South-east Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. Tonight, as every night, it will be curried, roasted, kebabed and stewed in thousands of kitchens around the globe.
The British have traditionally been less enthusiastic. There are no recipes for goat in Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. Ditto Delia's Complete Cookery Course. So when Marnie and Tim Dobson, a farming couple from Cheshire, bought 60 South African goats in 2005 they knew they were taking a gamble. These were meat goats, bred to be slaughtered and eaten, not petted and milked. "The seller said he couldn't market or sell them," remembers Marnie, sitting round her kitchen table with her three children.
Tim is from a family of dairy farmers, but the price of milk had dropped so low that the couple had to look for other ways to make ends meet. When the goats arrived, they put a sign in the road and waited to see if anyone was interested.
The Dobsons' 100-acre farm is set in lush countryside about 30mins drive from Crewe, and the road outside their farmhouse is a winding lane. Still, it didn't take long for their first customers to arrive. "We'd hear sudden braking and then someone would come in and ask for goat," says Marnie, who has the healthy glow of someone who works hard doing what she loves for a living.
Soon, people were coming from further afield. "They would just turn up on Saturday mornings without warning," says Marnie. "One family came all the way from Yorkshire to try goat. They said they just fancied a day out. Another man dropped in on his way to Inverness." It was clear that there was a demand for the meat – not only from expats longing for the taste of home, but also from foodies eager to try something new. Marnie and Tim sold their cows and bought more goats.
Today they have 350 goats, which live in their dairy herd's former pastures and barns. The goats seem very happy with their built-for-bovine environment, strutting around their field, selecting the best grass and stripping any trees within reach. However, a few alterations have had to be made. "We have to put electric fencing all the way round their field otherwise they eat through the hedge," says Marnie. "And, we have to move them to a new field every month because they find a way to escape."
Tim and Marnie now supply bistros in Shropshire, Cheshire and Merseyside, and sell the meat online and at farmers' markets and food festivals across the north-west. As such they are one of a tiny number of British farmers who breed goats for their meat rather than their milk. Online their best-seller is diced goat shoulder, with goat burgers and sausages not far behind.
Built for arid conditions, goats are leaner than cows, sheep or pigs. Their meat is low in cholesterol and saturated fat, and high in iron and B vitamins. As a result, some of Marnie and Tim's customers eat the meat for its health benefits. However, the majority just like the taste. Last year, they won best meat in the Fine Food Northwest Awards with their kid goat.
Slowly but surely, they have won over the local foodie establishment. One of the people who hurried over when he heard about the goats' arrival was Athanassios Migos, who runs a local high-end catering business, Feast Al Fresco, with his wife. "I'd been looking for goat for years," he says. "I couldn't find anyone who bred them for their meat."
Born and raised in north-west Greece, Athanassios' first job was looking after a herd of kid goats and he retains a strong affection for the animal. "They are the most mischievous, sly, inventive, competitive and adventurous creatures," he says. He also still loves their flavour. "Goat meat has a specific tanginess. It is less bland than chicken or pork, but not as strong as game," he says. Athanassios was soon ordering whole kid carcasses from Marnie and Tim, and he also told a local food legend, the Everyman Bistro, about them.
The bistro is underneath the Everyman theatre in Liverpool. It has been serving low-price food made from high-quality local ingredients for 35 years – and recently has been winning a lot of awards too. Its head chef, Tom Gill, tells me that he thought about putting goat on the menu when he first heard about it from Athanassios, and was finally persuaded to do so by Marnie and Tim last year.
"I wanted to show people that you can do more with goat than make a curry," he says, as the Bistro's lunchtime customers bustle around him. The bistro's menu changes daily, with goat appearing in many different guises from goat sausages and mash, to kid cooked in red wine with Greek spices and marinated feta, to classic goat curry. Today, there are two goat options: goat sausage with Greek beans and Moroccan spiced kid with couscous served with yoghurt. Tom says that, while kid is more tender and easier to cook, goat has more character. I say I'd better try both.
The goat sausage is tasty, very tasty, but not all that distinctive. The spiced kid, on the other hand, is tender, tangy, and unmistakably different from any other meat I've tried. It's the kind of taste that makes you want to give up your day job, move to a little village in Morocco, and marry a goat herder – which is to say that it's very, very nice indeed.
If you want to eat goat at the Everyman Bistro, phone to find out when it will next be on the menu (0151-708 9545; Everyman.co.uk). If you want to order Marnie and Tim's goat meat, go to their website: Chestnutmeats.co.uk
Goat recipes to try
1 whole kid goat leg (1.4 – 1.8 kg)
Half a bottle of red wine
Sprigs of rosemary, thyme and marjoram
Rub the meat with olive oil. Sprinkle with marjoram, rosemary and thyme. Put in a roasting tin then pour over half a bottle of red wine to moisten the meat, cover the dish with foil and cook at 165C for 30mins per 500g of meat, plus 30mins. Serve with roasted vegetables. The red wine at the bottom of the pan makes lovely gravy if you add flour to thicken.
Goat meat curry
2kg lean goat meat (shoulder)
Oil for frying
1 sliced onion
3 tsps cumin seeds
1 tsps fenugreek seeds
3cm piece cinnamon
8 whole cloves
1 tablespoon crushed green ginger
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 desert spoons curry powder
1 tablespoon paprika
tsps chilli powder
500g tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tsps cardamom
Cut meat into small pieces. Pour enough oil into a pan to cover the base and heat well. Add the sliced onion and cook until half browned. Add the cumin, fenugreek, cinnamon and cloves. Cook gently until the onions are browned. Add ginger and crushed garlic, fry for 30secs. Add meat and cook until well browned. Reduce heat and cook gently for 10mins. Add curry powder, paprika and chilli powder. Add peeled, chopped tomatoes and stir well to combine with other ingredients. Place in an oven-proof dish. Stir in 500mls water and sprinkle cardamom over the top. Cover and simmer for one and a half to two hours. Add more water if necessary. Serve with rice, mango chutney, cucumber mixed with yoghurt and poppadoms.
Goat sausage Tunisian style
8 goat sausages
15ml olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
1 red chilli chopped finely
5ml coriander powder
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
Chopped coriander to garnish
Pre-heat oven to 200C. Heat the olive oil in a roasting tray and, when hot, add the sausages and bake for about 10mins. Scatter all the ingredients except the lemon juice and coriander over the sausages, mix well and return to the oven for a further 20mins. Turn the sausages and mix the vegetable mixture half way through. Remove the sausages from the tray and keep warm. Squeeze the lemon juice into the sauce and mix well. The sauce should be nice and thick; if not, return to the oven and reduce. Serve the sausages with the sauce poured over them and garnished with the coriander.
BY TIM AND MARNIE DOBSON