Tom Nordlie (352) 392-1773 x 277
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Getting your goat will be as easy as picking up a loaf of bread on the way home, if Florida researchers have anything to do with it.
Once considered an exotic specialty item, goat meat may soon become a supermarket staple in the United States, spurred by the nation’s increasing cultural diversity and a new goat bred for meat production.
“In many parts of the world, goat is the meat of choice,” said Claude McGowan, director of the Florida Statewide Goat Program, a joint effort by the University of Florida and Florida A&M University to promote goat farming in Florida. “When people emigrate to this country and practice their culinary traditions, they create new markets and often generate interest in their native dishes.”
McGowan said areas known for goat consumption include Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
“In the United States, many retailers consider goat a seasonal item, because it’s associated with holiday celebrations,” said Gabriel Cosenza, a UF doctoral student who grew up in Honduras, where goat is commonly sold in supermarkets. “More consumers would probably try goat if it were available all the time.”
As part of his master’s degree work with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Cosenza developed two goat meat products that will be available commercially this fall, Cabrito Snack Sticks and Cabrito Smoked Sausage.
The peppery snack sticks were designed to compete with beef snacks such as Slim Jims, he said. The smoked sausage has a milder flavor and looks similar to kielbasa. Both products were developed as part of the Florida Statewide Goat Program.
“One of the project’s primary goals is to make goat meat more profitable,” said Sally Williams, a UF animal sciences professor who supervised Cosenza’s work on the products. “By combining convenient, high-quality products with good marketing, we can help expand the industry.”
She said “Cabrito” is a Spanish-language term for goat meat.
“We avoided using the word ‘goat’ in the name because we didn’t want consumers to have preconceptions,” Williams said. “We’re trying to give goat meat a new image, because the industry has entered a new era.”
That new era began in 1993, when South African Boer goats were first imported to the United States, said Buddy Hagler, president of the Florida Meat Goat Association. Bred strictly for meat production, Boer goats mature faster and grow larger than other goats eaten in the United States.
“The Boer improved things dramatically,” said Hagler, a goat farmer for 15 years. “They can be raised purebred or crossed with domestic breeds, the way some cattle were used to improve the beef industry.”
Goat meat, also called chevon, is flavorful yet lean, Hagler said. He said a 3-ounce cut of roasted goat contains 122 calories, providing 23 grams of protein and 2.6 grams of fat. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that a 3-ounce cut of roasted beef bottom round roast contains 160 calories, providing 24 grams of protein and 6.2 grams of fat.
One reason for the leanness is that goats do not accumulate fat deposits or “marbling” in their muscles, he said, so goat must be cooked longer and at lower temperatures than other red meats.
“It’s a good choice for health-conscious people who like meat,” Hagler said.
If statistics tell the story, then efforts to mainstream goat are paying off.
Last year, federally inspected facilities produced 26.5 million pounds of goat, up from 16.6 million pounds in 1995, according to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Almost all goat meat produced in the United States is consumed domestically, said Marvin F. Shurley, president of the American Meat Goat Association in Sonora, Texas.
He said Texas is the nation’s largest goat meat producer, followed by Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and Oklahoma, according to a 1997 USDA survey. Florida ranked ninth in the survey.
The nation imported another 12 million pounds of goat in 2000, mostly from Australia and New Zealand, Shurley said. In 1999 the figure was 8 million pounds.
Imports are common because demand for goat meat exceeds local supply even in some goat-producing states, McGowan said. In Florida, about 85 percent of dressed goat meat sold is imported.
“Australia and New Zealand have lower production costs, so they pass the savings to U.S. consumers,” said McGowan, an animal sciences associate professor with FAMU. “We’re researching methods to reduce domestic production costs and claim a bigger market share.”
The Florida Statewide Goat Program is funded by IFAS and FAMU’s Center for Cooperative Agricultural Programs.