For the past 20 years, Lechner has not only been raising and selling goats in Pittstown but doing first-of-its-kind Master’s and PhD research at Rutgers University, focusing on the production and marketing of goat meat in New Jersey.
With the help of USDA grants, Lechner, 37, has been able to donate goat meat to culinary schools so that chefs can be trained in its uses. He also is able to survey fine dining establishments about their willingness and ability to serve high-quality, yet affordable, goat meat.
“Most people don’t picture it on the menu next to veal,” he says with a laugh, “but at Caribbean restaurants, it’s right at the top.” The state’s large ethnic communities, including Italian and Portuguese populations, provide a high demand for goat meat that peaks according to various holiday calendars.
Lechner’s passion and profits came about almost by accident. He grew up in Pittstown on his family’s 180-acre cattle farm. About 20 years ago, when someone gave him two free goats, one of which was pregnant, he decided to run a newspaper ad to sell the offspring.
After being overwhelmed by the response, “I saw a great opportunity to diversify,” he says.
The experiment was such a success that his cattle were soon history, and the farm became a goat world. Although states like Texas raise this low-maintenance livestock by the thousands, and in Australia, wild goats are herded, slaughtered and shipped frozen, in bulk, at remarkably low prices, Lechner’s relatively small operation specializes in fresh, quality cuts.
The key to its use lies in knowing the product. Unlike American beef, goat is usually sold in whole, half or ‘primal’ cuts. Often, specialty stores will process these larger pieces into ribs or cubes.
Depending on the age of the goat, it is around half the calories of beef and more than 80% lower in fat, so most goat dishes use a low cooking temperature and moist heat method, like stewing or braising in a small amount of liquid, to keep the meat tender and juicy. Probably the most well-known dish is delectable curried goat, served over rice in a rich and creamy, golden sauce.
No matter what you decide to do with it, I highly recommend joining the rest of the world in diversifying your own menu. So, go on, get your goat! Visit goatworldnj.com, Goat meat is also often available from butchers and at ethnic markets.
SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.