On this date in 1772 the world’s most traveled goat (to the best of our knowledge), died in Mile End in England. The goat had twice circumnavigated the globe.
The goat, whose name is not known, was first carried on board the HMS Dolphin under Captain Wallis. In the 18th century, ships usually carried a small stock of animals – pigs, goats, and chickens usually – to provide fresh meat, milk, and eggs for the captain’s and officers’ consumption, while the crews subsisted on salted meats, dried peas or beans, and rice, washed down with rum. The goat in question must have been a prolific milk producer to have been well attended to for so long, although, to be fair, after a while her meat would not have been something naval officers would have relished, although a good cook could have made a decent stew of her had they been inclined.
Let’s start with a small biology lesson. People who are not raised on dairy farms usually do not understand that mammals do not give us milk out of the kindness of their hearts. They must be bred, and their offspring taken from them. That’s who their milk was intended for. They will lactate for a certain period after giving birth, and then have to be bred again. Their male babies are typically fattened for slaughter; that’s where veal comes from. So if you think that drinking milk and eating yoghurt or cheese does not harm animals, think again. In the 18th century, goats were a popular animal aboard naval ships because they were hardy and easy to breed. It was not uncommon to leave a few goats on deserted islands encountered along the way, expecting them to breed and, thus, provide meat for vessels passing that way in the future. This practice wrought havoc on indigenous ecosystems, of course, but 18th century sailors were not noted for their concern about local regions other than how they could exploit them.
HMS Dolphin circumnavigated the earth twice. The second circumnavigation, begun in 1766, was under the command of Samuel Wallis, and this was our goat’s first trip around the world. The master on this voyage, George Robertson, subsequently wrote a book The discovery of Tahiti; a journal of the second voyage of H.M.S. Dolphin round the world under the command of Captain Wallis, R.N., in the years 1766, 1767, and 1768, written by her master. The goat gets a brief mention.
The goat then sailed with James Cook on his first voyage of discovery aboard HMS Endeavour, from 1768 to 1771. Endeavour departed Plymouth on 26th August 1768, carrying 94 people and 18 months of provisions. Livestock on board are recorded as pigs, poultry, two greyhounds and a milking goat. This list at first seems incomplete because a single milking goat would not normally produce milk for more than 8 months without being bred. One of the crew did make this note concerning our goat, however:
I must not omit how highly we have been indebted to a milch goat: she was three years in the West Indies, and was once round the world before in the Dolphin, and never went dry the whole time; we mean to reward her services in a good English pasture for life.
If we are to believe this sailor, our goat gave milk from 1766 to 1771 without being bred. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were bred between sea voyages, but I can also understand that such a phenomenal milk producer would be highly valued and protected. Samuel Johnson heard of this goat, and composed a Latin epigram for her, which allegedly she wore engraved on a silver collar around her neck:
‘Perpetui ambita his terra praemia lactis,
Hac habet, altrici capra secunda Jovis.’
Boswell gave this (expanded) translation:
In fame scarce second to the nurse of Jove,
This Goat, who twice the world had traversed round,
Deserving both her master’s care and love,
Ease and perpetual pasture now has found.
By this time the Admiralty had granted the goat a perpetual pension, which presumably translated into a lifetime of pasturage, but she died on this date in 1772, two days after being granted the pension.
We can go a number of ways with recipes to commemorate this wondrous goat. Given that she was known for milk and not for meat, goat cheese comes to mind. Cow’s milk and goat’s milk have similar overall fat contents. However, the higher proportion of medium-chain fatty acids such as caproic, caprylic and capric acid in goat’s milk contributes to the characteristic tart flavor of goat’s milk cheese, and make goat’s milk naturally homogenized.
Goat cheese has been made for thousands of years, and was probably one of the earliest made dairy products. In the most simple form, goat cheese is made by allowing raw milk to curdle naturally, and then draining and pressing the curds. Other techniques use an acid (such as vinegar or lemon juice) or rennet to coagulate the milk. Soft goat cheeses are made in kitchens all over the world, with cooks hanging bundles of cheesecloth filled with curds in the warm kitchen for several days to drain and cure. If the cheese is to be aged, it is often brined so it will form a rind, and then stored in a cool cheese cave for several months to cure.
Feta is made from sheep’s milk or a mix of sheep and goat milk (to give it the characteristic sharpness). It may be the most readily available cheese made with goat’s milk available throughout the West. French goat cheeses are numerous and also pretty widely distributed. Take your pick of Bucheron, Chabis, Chavroux, Clochette, Couronne Lochoise, Crottin de Chavignol, Faisselle, Montrachet, Pélardon, Picodon, Pouligny Saint-Pierre, Rocamadour, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Chabichou du Poitou, Valençay, and Pyramide. It is said that the Moors brought goats to the Loire Valley and Poitou in the 8th century, but this is a conjecture. Certainly goats were more prevalent historically in the Middle East and North Africa than Europe, but producing goat cheese took off in France more than anywhere else in Europe.
Eating goat meat is also unevenly distributed throughout the world. It is very common in Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, and can also be found in many parts of the New World where European colonists took them, presumably as shipboard livestock. That is certainly the case in Jamaica where goats were valued by British sailors. Most Latin American cultures have goat recipes as well. It was easy for me to find goat meat at markets when I lived in northern Italy, and Patagonian kid was seasonally available in Argentina. I cook it when I can, usually in a rich stew seasoned with allspice and cloves. The meat of a full-grown goat is tough with little fat in it, so it must be braised slowly to make the meat tender. Cooking on a very slow simmer in broth for 4 to 5 hours is necessary. The meat is similar in taste to mutton: somewhat gamey. Young kid is a different matter. It is naturally tender and can be roast like lamb. Whenever I see a milk-fed leg of kid for sale I snap it up.