Visiting JSJ Goat Farm with Chef Robby Goco for Madrid FusiónApril 4, 2017
Early in the morning with sleep still pinching at the corners of our eyes, we step out of the car and into the fresh-aired and sunny JSJ Goat Farm in Tarlac. Yes, actual fresh air in a livestock farm, if you can believe it, thanks to the design of the elevated goat pens, which allow the, erm, bodily waste of the animals to fall through the holes in plastic tiles and onto the ground, where they return to nature. The plastic does not absorb any smells or stains, making the JSJ Goat Farm one of the cleanest animal farms we’ve seen. Owner Jeffrey Lim tells us that his goats are “as healthy as can be,” being fed with a diet of 80% grass, 20% grains, and the farm is not in the practice of using hormones or preservatives in either the meat or the dairy.
Lim leads us—that is, the Pepper team, the Department of Agriculture’s Undersecretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, members from the LGU, Chef Robby Goco’s kitchen crew, film crew (for the Madrid Fusión presentation), and manager—to the milking room. The crowd of roughly 30 people teeter around the milking pens as Chef Robby and his film crew set up. Lim shows us the machine with which they milk the goats to relieve their swollen udders. “We finish the milking process by hand,” he says. He steps aside for Chef Robby to hand-milk a liter of goat’s milk, after which the tips of the teats are dipped in an iodine solution to prevent infection. Lim has the freshly hand-milked goat’s milk pasteurized immediately and give us all a taste of the comfortingly warm milk—a subdued gamey flavor underneath the chalky, thick mixture leaves a lingering afterthought. This distinct character of goat’s milk is what allows chèvre to have an inimitable taste and texture.
After the milking segment is filmed, we move onto the pens where the goats feed, and are struck by their mild-mannered nature, even in the presence of dozens of strangers. As we pet the gentle creatures, Chef Robby tells us of the a strangely specific social perception that Filipinos have of goat meat. It is either regarded as a meat for men and, according to their research, is consumed 85% of the time by men, and 80% of the time in the form of pulutan. In Tarlac, where most of the population consumes it on a regular basis, even with its expensive market price of PHP300/kilo, it is the go-to meat for celebrations and parties are considered incomplete without goat. Yet in Manila, where goat meat is uncommon, people tend to be violently averse to the thought of eating meat that is commonly eaten in other parts of the Philippines, with 20% of Filipinos nationwide consuming goat meat. This is exactly what Chef Robby wishes to change with this year’s Madrid Fusión, with the hopes of introducing goat meat into the mainstream and supporting local farmers in the process.
For the presentation he is preparing with Madrid Fusión, Chef Robby intends, for the first time, to present 6 dishes (dishes presented per chef are usually 2-3)—in line with this year’s Madrid Fusión drives an emphasis on sustainability (and also his own personal mission), Chef Robby plans to showcase the versatility of goat by maximizing each part of the animal. The quintessential goat dish of kaldareta will be revived and elevated in the presentation; a goat prosciutto will show how you can extend the life of a cut of goat meat; goat head paklay makes use of parts otherwise discarded; bitters out of goat bile will be used in a cocktail; goat milk turned into powder form will pay homage to the iconic mikmik powder; and finally, a yet-to-be-determined dish that has the purpose of being child-friendly is in the works, with the aim of normalizing the meat for Filipinos at a young age.
With a sense of obvious unease, we proceed to the slaughterhouse with a young goat, or a kid, in tow. “Death is an unavoidable part of food,” Chef Robby solemnly says. The slaughter seems to drag out, but we force ourselves to watch each slow step—paying our respects to the animal by giving its death and the weight of it our full attention. After the slaughter, the goat is taken apart by a trained butcher, and Chef Robby marvels at the quality of the meat. “Goat is usually cooked very slowly over fire,” he says. “But this is top 1%. High in fat.” He points to the white lines that contrast the fresh, red meat. “Goats usually have yellowish fat. This is white. Very clean. Not gamey. It’s like a cross between lamb and veal.”
As they pack up the meat to transported to the cooking site, Chef Robby reflects on the meal his kitchen team and he will prepare later in the day. “We discussed goat sausage last night…” he tells us. The other cuts of the meat will be saved for the Madrid Fusión presentation they are filming, so he has to think within the constraints of maximizing the parts still available. “We respect the animal by preparing it well and using all the parts,” he reminds us, something he had said during the slaughter, perhaps as much to himself as to the rest of us. The long morning wears on us as we make our way to our final destination of the day, an al fresco dining area where lunch (surprisingly, not goat) awaits us. After dining, we patiently wait a couple of hours comfortably shaded yet still sitting in thick heat while the film crew attempt to capture the goats as they graze in the field.
Finally, late afternoon arrives along with Chef Robby’s crew, who set up an interim kitchen on some set-aside tables and begin their work. We watch they prep, chop, grind, and “These are the wagyu of goats,” Chef Robby tell us. “Goats are normally very lean but these are very fat.” Hours later, as the light fades from the sky and the hot, thick and hearty stew cooked with okra (one of the main exports of Tarlac, as they supply Japan with 90% of their okra we are told) is ready to be served, Chef Robby bites into a sauce-covered sausage. “There’s no gamey taste,” he says, genuinely surprised by a fact that he had already expected about this particular meat. Nostrils flaring from the pure joy of good flavor, he repeats, “This is the wagyu of goats.”