Putting goat meat on the menu with James Whetlor: it’s ethical, sustainable and delicious!

James Whetlor may seem like a man on a pretty unusual mission, but the more you hear about it, the more sense it makes.

Originally from the picturesque county of Devon in the southwest of England, he spent 15 years working as a chef in London before returning to his hometown of Axminster to take on some farmland.

“The plan was to grow our fruit and vegetables,” James explains. “But there was one plot of land that was completely overrun with shrubbery and bracken. We needed to clean it up, and for that kind of land the best method is animals. We thought about pigs but in the end decided to get four goats in to clear it.”

WASTE NOT WANT NOT

Speaking to the dairy farmer who supplied the goats, James learnt more about how the industry works. “All the billy goats are euthanized because they’re useless. It’s such an incredible waste, it’s the real, unseen price of our goat cheese. So I called River Cottage, a restaurant in Axminster that I’d worked with, and I asked them if they’d be interested in putting goat meat on the menu. They said yes, and that was sort of a lightbulb moment for me: I realized there was an opportunity to make goat farming more ethical—by eating them!”

James Whetlor of Cabrito Goat Meat. Photo: Cabrito.co.uk

James founded Cabrito in 2012, and made the leap to selling goat meat full time. He hasn’t looked back. “From those first four goats we got to clear the land, now we’re selling 4000 goats a year. That’s about a third of all the billy goats born in the UK who are now being eaten rather than killed and disposed of at birth.” And his work isn’t just limited to the UK. This year alone he’s been to Australia and Trinidad to promote goat meat consumption, and last October became “Goatober” (LINK) with coordinated events in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and the USA.

CHANGING MINDS

So what do people think of goat meat? It’s still quite rare to find it on menus in the West. “It’s cultural imperialism,” according to James. “People don’t see it as food. It’s seen as being too tough or gamey, not a prime cut, not something you’d normally want to eat. And they have no idea what they’re missing out on! The truth is that billy goats have a similar taste to lamb, yet with 70% less fat. It’s got more protein and more iron than lamb too. So not only is it sustainable, it’s healthy too.”

A box of different goat meat cuts and sausages from Cabrito. Photo: cabrito.co.uk

Sustainability is an increasingly important factor in people’s food choices, as James is well aware. “For anyone who eats goat cheese, they should think about the consequences. Goat cheese is not sustainable or ethical if we don’t also eat goat meat. But it doesn’t have to be this way! These goats are all going to be born anyway, so if we eat them, we’ll simultaneously reduce demand for other more energy-intensive meats like beef. All our purchasing decisions have consequences.”

This is particularly important in countries which eat a lot of goat cheese but not a lot of goat meat: while the UK goat population is under 100,000, in France it’s more than a million. “That’s a lot of healthy animals being euthanized needlessly every year,” as James underlines. “Nothing about it makes sense, but the solution is easy, healthy, and delicious!”

CHEESE 2019

James Whetlor’s book, Goat: Cooking and eating, published in 2018. Photo: Cabrito.co.uk

For his dinner at Cheese 2019, James will be teaming up with Alessandro Grano of La Fromagerie in London to present goat meat and goat cheese together. I ask James what his favorite goat cheeses are: “There’s two in particular. First is Cathare from Languedoc in the south of France. It comes in small, thin discs, with an ash-colored rind and a nutty flavor, and should be eaten as fresh as possible, though you can age it too. Then there’s Rove des Garrigues, also from the south of France, which is made exclusively with the milk of a native breed, the Rove goat (an Ark of Taste product). It’s a really seasonal cheese, you can tell the difference in the animals’ diet from early spring to summer. The earlier cheeses are tangy, like citrus, but later on in the year it develops a fuller, more peppery flavor. ”

Curious to taste some for yourself? Come to our Dinner Date, Getting the Goat, on September 20 to meet James and taste some delicious cabrito recipes for yourself!

In the meantime, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can try cooking Kid & Quince Tagine at home!

by Jack Coulton

info.eventi@slowfood.it

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