Underrated in America: Goats

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I was a child of the 70s, and so I know about goat milk. That is, I thought I knew. It was what all the hippie parents in my neighborhood made their kids drink, and I was pretty sure it was icky. I made a brief re-evaluation in my twenties when chevre became cool, but somehow kept wrinkling my nose on the whole goat topic. My husband started talking about getting a goat a few years ago, to help with our out-of-control blackberry vines, and all I could imagine was chasing a goat 'round the neighborhood, my favorite jacket in its maw. I'll admit it, I had every goat stereotype in the book.

Something happened this spring to turn that all on its head. I started making cheese, and buying raw cow's milk through a complicated and barely legal network of people transporting raw dairy products across state lines. Suddenly, I wanted a goat (really, two; my goatherding friends tell me that goats are sociable and will demand to sleep in your house unless they have a buddy), for milk to drink and make butter and cheese, and of course, to nosh on the vines that survived the Great Blackberry Masacre of 2007. (I was pregnant. Nesting. You know.) Barbara Kingsolver writes in her local food memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, of the amazing quality of goats, who live readily on land that's impossible to farm, eating mesquite pods and grass and other food humans don't really prefer, turning it into tasty milk and lean, delicious meat without a bit of expense or fossil fuels.

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I don't think I'll be butchering my goats (at least, not yet), but Bill Niman has other ideas. The famous namesake of Niman Ranch left the company last year because of a disagreement over how carefully the company was vetting its meat. Now he's raising goats and selling the meat to choosy chefs across the country (under the "BN Ranch" name; he gave up the rights to "Niman" as part of his separation agreement) and chef Christopher Lee speaks for many foodies when he says, "The goat is the next thing."

Goats have got it all: creamy delicious milk that makes up into fantastic, full-flavored cheese; they are ecologically beneficial; they are sweet animals who enjoy clearing nasty weeds; and their meat is the next thing. And did you know that goats are responsible for both cashmere and angora? How can you not like goats now? Goats are everywhere; last weekend at the pumpkin patch, I was enchanted by two Nigerian dwarf goats for sale. "Sold," the sign read. Maybe next year...
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