The market for kid-goat meat is on the rise, with a steady but constant increase in demand that is thanks to Mr Whetlor’s innovative trickle-down marketing, who now supplies billies to more than 50 restaurants.
“There is a huge, untapped market out there, but first we need to ensure that people can try the meat quite cheaply,” says the former London chef.
The taste for goat meat in the UK is relatively new, he observes, but with around 90,000 billies being slaughtered soon after birth in the goat milk sector (Defra figures), resources are already in place.
“If the market continues to expand, in ten to fifteen years’ time in Britain we will not be euthanasing billies but bringing them on and rearing them for meat.”
“In my time as a chef in gastro pubs and fine dining restaurants, I didn’t prepare goat meat more than three times in fifteen years,” he explains. “But when you think of the growing popularity of goats’ milk you realise that there are a lot of billy kids that are slaughtered at birth rather than being brought on for meat.”
He points out that goat meat is the most popular meat in many countries, but demand in Britain was almost non-existent. “This is a real shame, as it is a really healthy, tasty meat. It is lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, pork and lamb, and high in iron and protein - in fact it is lower in fat than skinned chicken.”
The business started on a micro-scale, with Mr Whetlor looking to acquire some pigs to tidy a patch of land that he had bought, which met considerable opposition from his neighbours. “By good fortune I got four goats instead.
“At the time I was working for Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, and took some goats back to River Cottage – and they proved to be a really popular food. That got me thinking that there was perhaps a potentially good market out there.”
This is where Mr Whetlor’s impeccable credentials as a chef came into their own, as he had first-class contacts in the restaurant industry who were willing to try goat meat. “I was fortunate that I had worked in London and knew the restaurant market well enough to be able to sell in to about 15 restaurants right at the beginning. This soon grew to about 20 - some which were really high-profile restaurants, and this encouraged other establishments.”
The wholesale kid meat business is not London-centric, and there are now restaurants in Bristol, Manchester and Sheffield that are regularly serving kid goat meat, and there are further expansions to come.
However, Cabrito Goat Meat is a wholesaler, and he does not butcher the meat for distribution. So he was very pleased when Ritter Courivard, with butchery facilities came on board as a customer.
“The company is a supplier of top-end restaurants, including a number of Michelin starred ones. Buying the meat through them is often better for smaller establishments who don’t have the means to butcher a whole carcass; sometimes the chef will just want 40 portions of boned and rolled shoulders, for example.”
He attributes part of the success of the goat meat sector to changing tastes of the British public and noting that there are a lot of foods that are now accepted as ‘regular’ that started off as imported. “Lots of people are now trying goat meat when they are abroad, and this makes them more likely to choose it on the menu when they get back home.”
Most of the billies are Saanen, which is the main milking breed in the UK, rather than Boers bred specifically for meat. “When you slaughter at seven months, as we do, as long as they are reared correctly, you get live weight of 35-40kg, which becomes a carcass of 18kg. We haven’t seen much difference in weight or quality between these and Boer goats.”
Balancing the supply of billies to demand from customers is quite a challenge and Mr Whetlor has been careful not to take on too many at one time.
“Farmers are, quite rightly, cautious about taking on goats to raise them for meat. In the Gloucestershire area one in particular who was watching to see how the market developed before committing himself; this is completely understandable because you need to know that you will have a customer when the kid is ready for slaughter.
“We would really like some national chains start serving kid goat meat to their customers, that would be a real boost to the industry,” he says.
Special thanks to Heather Briggs for bringing this article to our attention.