Goats have a bad rap. The bulging eyes, their comic book penchant for tin cans and that whole cloven-hooved association with The Dark One. It’s a PR nightmare, really.
But spend any time with goat people — and by that I mean the rare breed of folks who’ve somehow been captivated by these curious, spirited little creatures — and you can start to understand why much of the rest of the world relies on goats for everything from milk to meat. They’re handy little critters to have around. BiteClub takes a nibble out of the goaty goodness from Sonoma County.
Godmother of Goat Cheese
You can’t talk about goats without mentioning Patty Karlin of Bodega Goat Ranch. “I want to be reincarnated as one of my goats,” says the inimitable Karlin, who’s been an icon of goat farming and goat cheese making since the early 1980s. Karlin is in the midst of converting her 7.5 acre ranch into a self-contained, biodynamic farm complete with sustainable pastures and even healing herbs for her flock of up to 100 goats. She’s best known, however, for her fresh and aged “country” goat milk cheeses (Bodega Artisan Cheese) which she makes onsite in 50-gallon batches throughout the year and distributes to farm markets and restaurants. Passing along the tradition, her facility has been an incubator for a number of emerging cheesemakers, among them the gals of Bohemian Creamery, who are turning out some high end goat cheeses for local restaurants.
Ice Cream for everyone
One of the easiest places for goat novices, however, are Laura Howard’s ultra-gourmet goat milk ice creams and frozen yogurts. Studded with brownies, local figs or whatever tickle her fancy, LaLoo’s frozen goat’s milk confections have become the darling of the dessert set after only two years of business. Loaded with protein, probiotics (in the yogurt style) and digestable for lactose intolerant, it’s a less-guilty treat with all the richness. Best bets: Low-fat Rumplemint mint-chocolate chip and Cajeta De Leche frozen yogurt with Mexican caramel and toffee bits. (Available at Whole Foods, Oliver’s and Pacific Market).
Certainly the least-familiar goat product to the general public: goat meat. A staple of many Latin, Indian and Middle Eastern cultures, cooked goat is still a nose-wrinkler for many. The rumor is that it’s gamey, tough and generally unpleasant — and it can be exactly that. Older goats can get a bit funky. But done right, goat meat is a lean, light and delicate meat ideal for grilling or barbecue.
Tacqueria Los Primos #2 (2227 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa, (707) 527-5430) serves up Birria, or barbcued goat, most days in tacos and burritos. It has the texture of dark meat chicken and a lighter flavor than beef.
If you’re a bit more adventurous, wade into goat meat salami or sausage. Nancy Barlas of Barlas Boer Goats in Petaluma pasture-raises the stockier Boer breed of goats which she calls “the ultimate meat goat” and sells her Butt-N-Head goat salami and sausages online. Her salami tastes like, well, salami. Meaning not at all like goat. In fact, the meat is infused with a bit of pork fat because goat meat is naturally lean — a seventh the fat of beef and and even significantly less calories than chicken and pork.(And it doesn’t taste goaty at all.)
Down the road, family-run Achadinha Cheese Company, which won a Best In Show award from the American Cheese Society in 2002 for their aged Capricious goat cheese, also sells a killer Hardwood Smoked Summer Sausage made with their “retired” goats each year at Petaluma Market.
Even more to love
Redwood Hill Farm, a name also synonymous with goat milk and cheese, has a range of products from yogurt to their award-winning Crottin — an earthy, slightly funky French-style cheese. (Available at Whole Foods, Pacific Market, Oliver’s)
Local chefs are getting into the game. Mark Dierkheising of Dierk’s Parkside Cafe is a long-time fan of goat and sometimes has it on the menu, as does Mark Malicki of Cafe Saint Rose. Tamale-master Mateo Granados recently served up goat stomach filled with goat offal to the delight of Sebastopol Farm Market-goers and has several kid goats awaiting possible tamale filling (at the Santa Rosa and Sebastopol Farm Markets).
If you’re craving a little goat to cook up yourself, Marin Sun Farms is a best bet for fresh cuts of goat. And if you’re still doubting the rise of goat, consider the fact that Bill Niman (formerly of Niman Ranch) has recently gotten into the game with his own herd at BN Ranch in Bolinas and is selling his meat in several San Francisco stores.