Central Pa. Farmer Shares Tips on Cooking with Goat

3/24/2012 10:00 AM
By Anne Harnish Food and Family Features Editor

NEWBURG, Pa. — Throughout history, raising small ruminants such as goats and sheep instead of beef cattle has always been about risk, said Sandra Miller, a farmer in Newburg, Pa. Miller, a published author, is also in the process of finalizing a new cookbook due out later this year, a “definitive guide on how to roast whole animals.”

In terms of livestock, five goats or sheep equals about one cow, Miller said.

“As a businessperson, do I want to raise one cow? Or five goats or sheep? If the one cow dies, you have a 100 percent loss. If one goat or sheep dies, you only have a 20 percent loss. With small ruminants, you’ve reduced your risk.”

And because of that risk, Miller said, sheep and goats were nearly always used by pioneering people or subsistence farmers.

Sheep were one of the first livestock brought to the U.S., Miller said. “Oxen were used as labor, but not generally eaten (unless culled).”

Today, goat meat is the number one red meat consumed on the planet, according to Miller. And her market sales of goat meat in the Mid-Atlantic region continue to rise steadily, allowing her to raise anywhere from 65 to 200 goats per year.

Goat is super-lean, comparable to venison. According to the USDA, a six-ounce serving of goat has 5.2 grams of fat, compared to chicken, which has 12.6 grams of fat; beef, 15.8 grams; lamb, 16.2 grams; and pork, 16.4 grams.

“One of the problems in many cookbooks is that goat and lamb are used interchangeably, but that doesn’t work,” Miller said. Because of it’s leanness, goat should be cooked “low and slow, with added liquid,” while “lamb is great for roasting, searing and grilling ... (using a) hot, open flame or fast-cooking.”

She notes that with the public becoming more interested in food and health, along with being more conscious of land use and environmental soundness, there is more interest in the health benefits and sustainability of raising goats, Miller said.

“Goats can be used in a beef herd to eat multiflora rose, pigweed, poison ivy, mile-a-minute vine and honeysuckle (in a pasture) instead of using herbicides like 2,4-D,” Miller said.

She receives income from renting her goat herds out for weed control, sometimes in specialty areas such as a recent case at a sensitive wetlands where herbicides were not allowed.

“My pastures would give any other farmer a heart attack,” Miller said. “A badly overgrown pasture is the best pasture for my goats. Poison ivy has as much as 26 percent protein.”

Miller sells meat through her Painted Hand Farm’s meat CSA (community supported agriculture) as well as at five different farmers markets located in central Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. She also sells veal, beef, chicken and pork.

Approximately 60 percent of Miller’s goat meat customers are from ethnic backgrounds. The other 40 percent are a broad mix, including students, gourmet cooks and folks who have traveled to other countries where they were introduced to goat dishes.

Her ethnic customers tend to be from Northern Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, she said. At one of her markets, she has a “huge following” of customers from mainland China.

“I can’t produce enough goat to meet my demand,” she said.

Many of her farmers market customers are also from low-income families. “Low-income families are cooking at home (because it’s less expensive). They are not buying pre-made, pre-processed foods,” Miller said. “Also, many of these people understand the value of food, since in many parts of the world, up to 50 percent of income is spent on food. And, in some areas, people are starving.”

Miller commented on how little is wasted by her ethnic customers, who sometimes prefer to buy a whole animal. Usually, she said, there is nothing left but the contents of the stomach — the customers want the head, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, intestines, caul fat (around the stomach), even the interior of the hooves.

“When I see grown men getting on their knees and praying for the animal and for the farmer ... to know that someone is honestly thankful for the animal, means a lot to a farmer,” Miller said.

Though Miller was raised near Carlisle, Pa., she spent 20 years working in California, ranching cattle and horses as well as working at a citrus and avocado orchard. Those experiences with farming as well as cooking and writing about food have given her some perspective about agriculture over the years.

“I see a trend toward less-cheap food in the U.S. coming,” Miller said, noting that she’s seen heifers which typically sold for 80 cents a pound going for $2.49 this year. “When I started farming, hay was $1.40 a bale. I saw a load go for $6 recently. ... I’ve watched the cost of feeding an animal triple — partly due to fuel (costs).”

One of Miller’s neighbors who had never shopped at her farm, approached her to buy hamburger recently. After three trips to the grocery store, the neighbor said, she decided to try the farm, commenting that the store had been out of the kind of ground beef she wanted. She then bought some beef from Painted Hand Farm.

For those who are not used to eating venison or goat meat, Miller suggested starting with a goat burger or goat sausage first, or putting a roast in a slow cooker. She said people would be surprised at the array of goat-meat cuts available, such as loin chops, shoulders, shanks, ribs, leg or neck steaks, stew meat, and whole or half animals.

For cooking the various cuts of meat, Miller said she likes a recent cookbook called, “Goat: Meat, Milk, Cheese,” by Bruce Weinstein. She is often inspired to start with those recipes, changing them to suit her preferences. At right are two of Miller’s favorite easy recipes.

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