Just a week into the Chinese "Year of the Goat," chefs in New York are sharpening their knives and diners are preparing to drool over bowls of braised goat shoulder tortellini in a smoked broth and plates of rosemary-goat cheese ice cream.
The homage dinner menu to the bleating ruminant at Craft Restaurant in New York on Friday night is just the tip of an emerging culinary craze for goat meat - an alternative, and normally budget-friendly, option to beef.
Menus using goat meat are leaping beyond ethnic restaurants to high-end outlets, as restaurateurs and retailers hunt for alternatives to beef - an expensive option, even though wholesale prices are off last summer's record highs.
"There are clear price advantages to putting goat on the menu, over beef, because you don't have to charge an arm and a leg for it," said Taylor Naples, chef de cuisine at Craft Restaurant in New York. Diners on Friday, however, will be forking out over $125 per person for the four-course, goat-themed meal.
Goat's appeal is equal parts cultural tradition and rural economics. The number of U.S. residents born in the Middle East jumped to 1.6 million in 2012, up 47 percent from a decade earlier, according to Pew Research Center. Population increases were also seen from other communities with traditional goat cuisine: South America (up 42.3 percent), Central America (56.3 percent) and the Caribbean (31.4 percent).
Dan Romanoff, executive vice president of meat distributor Nebraskaland, said demand for goat, particularly in the Muslim community, boosted sales from $24 million in 2013 to more than $30 million last year.
Imports of goat meat jumped to 19.6 million metric tonnes in 2014, double a decade earlier, according to agriculture department data, helped also by the strong dollar.
"Right now, I can buy goat meat for $2.75 a pound. Beef is $3.50 or more," said Romanoff, who is also a director of Hunts Point Cooperative Market, a leading North American food distribution center. "Which are you going to choose?"
As demand grows, domestic supplies are tightening and prices are hoofing up.
In Texas, the leading meat goats producer, the herd size shrank as drought prompted ranchers to send animals to slaughter in the past few years, said Bob Buchholz, president of the Texas Sheep & Goat Raisers Association.
Now, said Buchholz, some farmers are sheepishly turning to a less labor-intensive protein option: lamb.