From Chèvre to Chevon: Q & A with Shirley Richardson, Vermont Chevon
Shirley Richardson grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont, but most of her professional career was in serving as a school counselor and principal. When Shirley retired from education in 2004, she and her husband, Michael Smith, started Tannery Farm Cashmeres raising cashmere goats primarily for their cashmere fiber.
As she got deeper into the world of goats, Shirley realized that Vermont's dairy producers were burdened with a significant surplus of high-quality livestock that had no value as dairy animals, but a potentially considerable value as a food source. Vermont was, and still is known for its goat cheese, called chèvre and she was determined to make goat meat, called chevon!
In 2011, Shirley started Vermont Chevon, L3C. Her idea was to act as a marketing company for dairy goat producers who wanted to sell their transition goats as a meat source. For the last seven years, she has built a steady demand for the meat by supplying markets, butchers, chefs and consumers with succulent, flavorful chevon.
As part of our A Mosaic of Flavor series, in October we hosted a Burundian cooking class. Instructor, Fatuma Hussein, introduced participants to two different dishes, a filling green banana soup and a hearty potato and goat meat stew, both popular in rural areas throughout Burundi! Before the class we reached out to Shirley who was able to provide the delicious, juicy, goat meat for the stew.
After the class, I was able to chat with Shirley about what motivated her to start Vermont Chevon and what continues to drive her passion for goat meat in Vermont!
Q: What is your favorite part about goat farming?
Shirley Richardson: The animal itself. Goats have personality. They are playful, engaging, energetic and sometimes naughty! Goats also have a very low carbon footprint as they primarily feed off the ground, and in the trees, shrubs, and brush. They are what we call browsers versus grazers.
Q: Can you explain why goat meat is a healthier option than maybe beef or pork?
SR: When I start speaking about the goat and the meat, it's a good time to unscramble the names attributed to the meat of the goat. As we know, we rarely call the meat of the cow, cow meat. We know it as beef. Since we are much less familiar with what to call the meat of the goat, let me introduce you to chevon – the meat of the goat!
Chevon is the healthier meat option because the goat grows its fat on the outside of the muscle so it can be trimmed more easily than traditional meats where the fat is marbled within the meat and harder to remove. It's the lack of fat in chevon that gives us the mild flavor and nutritional benefits - lowest levels of fat and cholesterol, fewer calories, same amount of protein as beef, and more iron than traditional meats. Shirley referred to a chart published by the USDA, which you can see below.
Q: Aside from the incredible nutritional profile, how can goat meat contribute to the sustainability of our food system?
SR: I reference a great article I read recently written by Julie Kendrick for HuffPost dated 10/12/18 In Ms. Kendrick's article titled “Goat Meat Could Save our Food System, But We’re Too Afraid to Eat It” she notes, “goats leave the land a little better than they found it, since they eat weeds other animals ignore.” Their hooves are also small so the impact on pasture is less damaging. And, they eat primarily higher off the ground and move frequently. Where cows, pigs and sheep are grazers eating close to the ground for extended periods of time pulling grasses up by the roots. Goats play a significant role in the betterment of a farm's ecology.
Q: What local businesses or farmers have you partnered with?
SR: Vermont Chevon sources from a number of Vermont dairy goat farms, such as Blue Ledge, Lazy Lady Farm, Oak Knoll, and Ayers Brook. This is a mutually beneficial relationship because farmers need to replace goats whose production is waning, and bucklings are a significant issue as they do not produce milk. Does must be bred to continue milk production, and generally 50% of the kid crop each year are bucklings without a purpose. One of Vermont Chevon's goals is to raise the bucklings for meat. In the meantime, we source, what we call, the transition goats – those transitioning from milk to meat.
Q: Who typically buys your goat meat on a regular basis?
SR: We sell to VT Co-op's, like City Market, as well as restaurants, butcher shops, markets and institutions in Vermont, Boston, New York City, Portsmouth, and Providence. In addition, our website offers the opportunity for people to order directly from Vermont Chevon.
Q: People comment that goat meat tastes gamey. What does goat meat taste like to you?
SR: Some people do claim that the meat tastes gamey. I do demos in many Co-op Markets and the most common comment I hear is, “I had no idea goat meat tasted this good!” Many people have eaten chevon in other countries where it is eaten regularly, so they notice the spicing used and sometimes like or don't like. A great way to begin with chevon is to cook up a burger. It's approachable, familiar and easy to prepare. The Worthy Burger Too in Waitsfield highlights Vermont Chevon as one of their delicious burgers!
Q: What do you envision goat farming looking like in 10 years?
SR: The US is Australia's goat meat gold mine. We import from Australia 52% of the goat meat we consume. The US has a significant number of meat goats but with our growing goat cheese, milk, and goat caramel industries, we have an additionally large number of dairy goats currently underutilized for meat. The future of the chevon meat industry is in its infancy but growing as evidenced by Australia's strong presence in our market. The health benefits of chevon are significant as are the increasing number of people who have grown up with this meat as a staple in their culture and want it easily and affordably available in their new country – the US. In the next ten years, and beyond, Vermont Chevon will continue as a leader in the goat meat market and inspire more Americans to embrace a diet that includes this healthiest of meats – chevon.
For more information, check out Vermont Chevon’s website here. Also, be sure to look out for Shirley demoing her delicious goat meat in one of our aisles in the future!