Nobody has ever kept a goat simply for the sake of it. Goats are singularly hideous, make a startling array of screaming noises and smell like the office bathroom after the Christmas doo. Despite this, I confess an attachment to the beady-eyed creatures. I was raised on Goat’s milk, and although I have no particularly fond memories of it, feel a sincere gratefulness (goatfulness).
Besides, there’s the novelty of goat ownership (they really perk me up, whatever the weather). Humanity have kept goats from as early as 10,000 BC, that’s almost as long as we have had domesticated dogs. So, if my goatherd great grandcestors started a tradition of keeping man’s second-best and frankly uglier friend, it must have been with good reason. The best reason: goat’s milk is good for you. It is like high vitamin, easier to digest dairy- with the added bonus that it comes from a goat. But the real bonus for the great great grandcestors was what else you could do with a goat. You could eat it, skin it, make it into a bag and even use it to pull the shopping. Their milk was stored in a one-creature multi-tool for surviving the tenth millennium BC.
A graphic circulating social media last week instructed the general public to ‘know your milk’. Fortunately, they were speaking to a descendant of goatherds as well as a self-proclaimed goat enthusiast. Unfortunately, goat’s milk didn’t make the list. The graphic showed the comparative environmental impact of producing a variety of milks, of course illustrating dairy as the most impactful versus alternatives such as soy, oat and almond. I was very upset.
Firstly, this chart seemed to ask exclusively western Europeans to ‘know their milk’, in using only dairy as a comparison. Beyond western Europe, goat’s milk is the gold standard. There are 875.5 million goats unrepresented by that ‘know your milk’ graphic. India produces around 40 million metric tonnes of goat’s milk a year. The Eurocentric milk graphic had also neglected to include the nutritional values of any of the milks. The order would have remained unchanged, dairy (in the absence of goat) has the highest nutritional value and environmental impact. Unfortunately, if my follow-on milk had been left to this chart’s author and based only on environmental impact, I may not be here today and if I was, I might have rickets. The nutritional value of dairy lies not just in vitamins, but in exactly the correct types of protein conducive to human growth.
Sure, we are the only creatures to pursue a milk habit past infancy (bar one or two breeds of suckling bird). However, we are also the only creatures to tap-dance, use flushing lavatories or build skyscrapers. So efficient is milk in fulfilling our dietary requirements that we evolved the lactase genome past infancy to continue digesting milk. You can’t squash an almond, squirt in some vitamins and call the job a good ‘un. More worryingly was that learned and supposedly engaged people were sharing information which was so clearly misleading, no matter how well-intentioned.
I consoled the absence of goat representation by reminiscing on my personal favourite interaction with a Goatherd (I have a top-ten), on a sun-blasted plain in Sicily. I had been told that he would sell me the freshest and most delicate ricotta on the island if I caught him before he ascended into the cool of the hills with his herd. I was sure that I was too late, but having jogged to his farm, the cheerful clattering of the bells at the goat’s necks told me he was home. After surviving an altercation with the Goatherd’s fearsome canine companion, my conversation with the leathery man went something like:
He disappeared and returned with a gently perspiring cold plastic tub, handing it to me before looking anxiously to see that this was all I wanted.
A flicker of a pitying smile at the daft-looking Englishman who was inexplicably happy at having met a goatherd, and who then proceeded to enthusiastically bid farewell to his herd.
Any Sicilian will tell you that a fresh Cannoli is the best way to have it, sweetened ricotta whipped and piped into crunchy, freshly fried tunnels of dough. But eaten with Bruschetta and a cool Campari spritz, or scattered over a pizza at the last second and ricotta is ethereal. In Sicily it is made with the leftover whey, mostly of goat’s milk but also cow’s and ewe’s. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind then that the goatherd ‘knew his milk’, he lived as his flock did, in the hills and on the land. And he didn’t have to squash even one innocent almond.