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Greece: Way More Lamb Than Beef? Corresponding Terrain?

I've never been to Greece. I have a picture of it being predominantly rocky/craggy land (even the islands) for goats and sheep; not big expanses of cattle pastureland. And along with that, i don't associate greek cooking with a lot of beef.

Would you plse educate me a bit about this? I know that, like most countries, Greece has variety in food and terrain; I'm not asking about absolutes, just 'predominantly'. Thx much!

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  1. First, go home, to Greece !

    Second, much like Italy, where pork is king. Pork feeds the world. and the "meat" is mostly pork. The livestock are mostly pigs.
    Goats and sheep are pastured in the plush green Greek mountains and feed on wild herbs giving the meat a natural flavor not found in factory farms.

    Beef is the American dream.

    Beef is found in areas of Greece where there is room for the lazy cattle to graze on much more feed to meat ratio.

    But, as may also be a shock to you and many others, in Greece, and in Europe in general, meat was saved for Sundays. If there was any at all. It was not a daily breakfast, lunch and dinner staple.

    There are recipes that were developed for beef in areas where there is beef. As there are lamb recipes that don't do as well with beef. Likewise with goat.

    My family comes from Greece in areas that have wine, lamb, goat, honey, etc.

    My MiL comes from an area that has none of the above except sheep for milk and cheese. No wine, no honey, no other meat except pork around Christmas.

    And I wonder how any traditional Greek recipe can be made without deglazing with wine. She shows me exactly how bland it can be without that essential Greek ingredient and ancient Greek cooking technique.

    22 Replies
    1. re: Gastronomos

      And then, during fast periods, like the 7-week Great Lent that begins this week, the Greek diet would be free of all flesh (seafood, too), dairy, eggs, oil, wine (with some allowances on festal days during the period).

      1. re: Karl S

        Shoot it seems like 1/2 of the Orthodox calendar is a fast day. There is every Wednesday and Friday, Great Lent, the Nativity fast, Apostles fast, Dormition ect.

        1. re: rasputina

          Exactly. It's a vital context in which to understand Greek cooking traditions.

        2. re: Karl S

          SEVEN weeks??? Yikers! But that's over there. right? American Greek Orthodox don't usually follow that so strictly? I had no idea there was a fast that went that long...

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              Greek Easter is usually on a different day than Roman Catholic, here and there, although this year it's the same day. For me, it's only a 40 day fast, starting this week. It always seemed to me they had a longer Lent; but if Lent starts this week that's only a 5 week period. It always confused me, to tell the truth. I'd love to get to the bottom of it.

              What made me laugh is the "allowance on festal days during the period"; I thought I was the only one but I always said St Patricks Day doesn't count, only to find a lot of my friends have the same personal rule! So now I can celebrate with a clear conscience, thanks.

              1. re: coll

                not to get too into it here, but Great Lent began today for the Orthodox Christians, "Clean Monday", after three weeks of preparations. It's 40 days till Palm Sunday, then Holy Week, then Pascha.
                As for food, no meat, dairy, or fish. Shellfish permitted. No oil. Olive oil or other oil. There are some days where oil is permitted.
                And since St. Patrick "Apostle of Ireland", the primary patron saint of the island brought Christianity to the island before the schism, we view him as Orthodox.

                "...Greek and Latin, the 2nd-century Christian celebration was called Pascha Πάσχα , derived, through Aramaic, from the Hebrew term Pesach (פֶּסַח), known in English as Passover,.."

                1. re: Gastronomos

                  No wonder I'm confused, thanks! And interesting about St Patrick.

                2. re: coll

                  "allowance on festal days during the period" during a period like Great Lent would mean eating fish, not corned beef. In other words, a partial relaxation of the fasting rules, not a total one.

                  1. re: paulj

                    Actually I was talking about abstaining from alcohol, that's what I usually "give up" for Lent. The only other concession is fish on Friday.

                    1. re: coll

                      there isn't yet a "pick and choose" "give up something of your choice for Lent" in Orthodox Christianity. It's an absolute. Not that everyone follows. I myself am guilty of not holding to strict fast during Lent.
                      But there are calendars available to follow for those that aren't familiar. Some days allow fish. Some days allow oil. Some days allow alcohol - Wine.

                      There are regions of Greece that are covered in orange groves. Traditionally finding olive oil in those areas is difficult and expensive. The northern regions of Greece use animal fats. As do some of the mountain regions of Cyprus.

                      1. re: Gastronomos

                        As far as I know, in my church it's no meat on Friday, and only during Lent now and a couple of other days throughout the year like Christmas Eve. And on Lent you give up one thing that is very important to you, I'm allowed to pick and choose. After 8 years of Catholic school, that's what I took away from it anyway. Maybe I should refresh my memory? It's been awhile...

                        1. re: coll

                          If you are referring to the Latin rite Catholic Church, Friday abstinence is still the rule year round but you may substitute another penance on Fridays outside of Lent but during Lent no meat on Friday is the rule.

                        2. re: Gastronomos

                          Regarding fish during Great Lent, I was thinking of Feast of the An­nunciation and Palm Sunday

                          1. re: paulj

                            Palm Sunday is a Feast Day. We feast on fish. Preferably fin fish. Mackerel is in season in the spring and very popular grilled.

                            1. re: paulj

                              I always forget to remove the Lent from my bellybutton.

                      2. re: coll

                        Well, for Roman Catholics, St Patrick's Day would be a day free from Lenten abstinence (fast rules now only apply to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) if St Patrick is the patron of the nation, diocese, city or parish, or if the bishop expressly grants a dispensation.

                        Roman Catholic Lenten rules are a teeny shadow of what they once were, but I don't want to digress too far from the topic on that point. The Greek rules, btw, are not just for the Greeks but (with variations) for all the non-Western Christians. (When you get to the Copts in Africa, those are some *serious* ascetical regimes, with days of fast and/or abstinence covering about half of every year - and this had an effect on the development of cuisine, much as Ramadan did in Islamic cultures).

                  2. re: Gastronomos

                    Goats and sheep aren't generally raised on factory farms even in the US.

                    1. re: rasputina

                      there's a very interesting film documentary called Sweet Grass about sheep ranchers in Montana.

                      1. re: rasputina

                        A friend of mine in California runs a goat farm and their prime product is goat cheese. It's called Jollity Farm and his cheeses are quite interesting.

                        1. re: Tripeler

                          I used to raise dairy goats myself. And the occasional sheep. A friend ran sheep full time.

                        2. re: rasputina

                          I estimate from http://www.mla.com.au/Cattle-sheep-an...
                          that the average size of flock per 'property' in Australia is about 2000 head.

                          Table 1
                          For several decades, 55% of the total US sheep population has been in farms with 1000+ head.  Texas, Calif, Wyoming are the top producing states.


                      2. Sheep & goats require much less pasturage than beef. Greece is mostly rocky & mountainous as you have imagined & hence not much pasturage for beef. Sheep & goats are much more efficient users of pasturage as well so that helps. When I lived in Greece most of the beef I saw in the shop came from Australia. Beef is readily available, it's just not raised there.

                        1. When I went there I assumed I'd find mostly lamb with maybe some goat. I was shocked to find most of the Tavernas (where we mostly ate during the months we were there) had predominantly pork, some lamb, and no goat at all. There was some beef but as noted above, not much.

                          But boy, do they know how to do Pig!

                          Lamb was mostly braised and well-done. If you go looking for kabobs and Gyros and all that Pita and hummus stuff, that's mostly Middle Eastern and they do it for the American tourists, but it isn't really Greek.

                          19 Replies
                          1. re: acgold7

                            you all are the best. just the kind of info I was seeking!
                            here in the NE of the US, Greek restnts don't do much w/ pork; they are associated w/ lamb mostly. (She said, just having fiished a lamb kabob pita wrap from The Greek Corner (Cambridge MA)! Th You!

                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                              I'm an hour or so away from Astoria. Greeks are doing pork. Lamb is on the menu, so is seafood.

                              1. re: Gastronomos

                                When I go to a sit down Greek restaurant here in NY I usually think seafood. How is it in Greece? I always thought it was sort of traditional.

                                  1. re: Gastronomos

                                    Oh only places that specialize in seafood. For take out I usually get moussaka while hubby loves a good gyro or two ;-)

                                  2. re: coll

                                    I'm more familiar with Greek Cypriot food than Greek Greek but, in my experience, meat is very much to the fore on restaurant menus. Whilst there is seafood, it's not something places seem to major on. Surprising really, when you think it's a relatively small island.

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      it's a large island. and as to why the seafood is not in the fore, I'm afraid that conversation has little to do with food and more about politics and not for this website

                                      1. re: Gastronomos

                                        Interesting that politics can effect a nation's food tastes.
                                        But, as you say, effect it, it must have.

                                        When I visit, as I do regularly, it always surprises how much in the background local seafood is, in comparision with other Mediterranean island I know. And it always strikes me as odd when restaurants make a big thing on their menu that a fish has been imported, frozen, from elsewhere in Europe.

                                        Still, with the excellent lamb and, particularly, pork on the island, no-one's going away from a meal hungry.

                                        1. re: Harters

                                          it's by law that in Cyprus and Greece they state that the fish is frozen and from where it came.

                                          where in Cyprus do you visit?

                                          1. re: Gastronomos

                                            We generally stay somewhere in the west - around the Paphos/ Latsi area.

                                      2. re: Harters

                                        Yeah, the couple of places I go swear it's a big deal where they come from, maybe it's just certain small areas. Our friend did go out with a girl from Greece for awhile and when she came over here to visit him she always made fish for us, so what do I know? Always wanted to go, maybe it's time!

                                        1. re: Harters

                                          Made my first trip to Greece and Cyprus 50 years ago. I also expected to find much more fish and seafood on the menus.
                                          As it was explained to me:
                                          Ancient country and civilization, these waters have been long overfished, little fresh fish left for commercial use.

                                          1. re: bagelman01

                                            that was 50 years ago and that was the stock answer from a country who was under the thumb of the great powers, trying to recoup from yet another brutal invasion that left many widows who don't fish and no meat as the invaders took all livestock to feed their soldiers.
                                            ...and today every corner place on the coast of the mainland and every island has fresh fish on the menu or specializes in it.

                                            1. re: Gastronomos

                                              The Mediterranean is severely depleted of fish, unless it's in an area that is protected, very little is left. http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.c...

                                              1. re: Gastronomos

                                                My post said that was my FIRST trip to Greece and Cyprus. I've made many over the years. My last being in 2008 when I was still getting the same answer.

                                                the exceptions over the years have been when I was on the Adriatic coast or Corfu. There I was served plenty of fish.

                                                1. re: bagelman01

                                                  I didn't want to get all wordy about that, but you're right. no fish in Greece or Cyprus. order lamb. it's the stereotype you want to believe

                                                  1. re: Gastronomos

                                                    It's not about stereotype, it's an accuarte report of my experience during more than 15 trips to Greece and Cyprus.
                                                    With limited availability of fish on most menus, most of my eating in Greece and Cyprus has been vegetables and cheeses.
                                                    I eat fin fish, vegetables and cheese in 'regular restaurants, but outside of 3 restaurants in Athens and 1 in Thessalonika there is no kosher meat meals to be had in Greece.

                                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                                      sorry. i am not familiar with kosher restaurants in Greece or Cyprus. and the best fish i've found was not on display, but reserved for non tourists and those that know there is a 'cap' on the price of fish. BTW, fish prices in Greece are set by the government. for whatever reasons, that's the case. so restaurants have taken to a 'secret' 'cap' cost to be even able to view the offerings.
                                                      it's like a 'cover charge'.
                                                      find a native and befriend them. then go and find a place that grills fish. pay up front and pay for the fish, which IS expensive alone.

                                                      1. re: Gastronomos

                                                        I have even bought fish right off the boats at the dock and paid restaurants to grill it for me. But when that is not an option, such as being taken out for a business meal, there is often no fish to be had. And my hosts are natives and cost ois not an issue.

                                  3. Mostly pork, lamb & chicken.

                                    Which is why I am saddened that the local Greek place's only souvlaki (they call it kebab! WTF?) is made of beef. Pork or lamb would be more 'authentic'.

                                    Good thing their tzatziki, melitsano & fava rocks :-)

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: linguafood

                                      is the beef "kebab" ground beef or cubes?

                                      1. re: Gastronomos


                                        At least they have decent gyros (pork, also not ground) and a good roasted leg o'lamb.

                                        I should go back soon :-)

                                        1. re: linguafood

                                          beef IS the American dream.

                                          layered pork gyro is what one finds in Greece and more and more around these parts (NYC and 'burbs).

                                          it's just that in the Plaka area of Athens Greece, there are two very old and famous souvlaki joints serving ground beef mixtures on a stick as souvlaki. it's what one place near me ('burbs of NYC) calls 'kabob'. those two in Plaka, Athens remind me of the two cheese steak places in Philly. rivals that make each other more famous (and rich).

                                          1. re: Gastronomos

                                            How interesting! I've never had souvlakia made with anything but small chunks of pork or lamb (man, do I miss that small stand in Patras!!).

                                            I think I would be thoroughly disappointed if I ordered souvlaki and got ground meat. Malakismeni! '-D

                                            1. re: linguafood

                                              I was shocked the first time I tried this in Greece.
                                              it was 1993 and in Plaka after Monastiraki and she said this is the place. two skewers of ground meat and herbs, not spiced like it's middle eastern cousins, but fresh and very tasty.

                                              everywhere else in Greece. everywhere else. it's cubes of pork on a skewer. I've not seen lamb, but it's been years since I've been back to Greece and souvlakia are now offered around NYC area. That is, real tasting souvlakia, not the old NYC style stuff....

                                            2. re: Gastronomos

                                              layered pork gyros- is that pieces of pork stacked /pressed together in a big cylinder and turned- like schwarma? I know of 1 or 2 greek places in the boston area that make that (griddling the pork after it is sliced off the cylinder and putting it in a thicker pita(no pocket) w/ tadziki sauce.) Boy would boston have a lot better food if the greeks would all serve gyros and greek specialties rather than their worthless pizza on every corner. (I'm not strong minded or anything, right?!)

                                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                Here in the NYC area it is common, now, finally, to find the commercial KRONOS brand and other brands of ground beef and lamb next to a house made Gyro of pork stacked up on a vertical spit. "Schwarma" as it's known in the east and those that brought it to Mexico as "tacos al pastor".
                                                But if it's a Greek place, it's pork. Not chicken. Not lamb. Not beef. Pork.
                                                I know of one place that destroys the pork gyro by slicing it off the vertical spit and griddling it to stuff in a pita. They are a small take out place serving Greek street foods, gyros etc, not owned or operated by Greeks.
                                                And, for the record, Greek pita does NOT have a pocket, save for the ones you might find on the Greek island of Cyprus, another pork capital.

                                                Good tzatziki is hard to find.

                                      2. Many countries, or parts of countries (mine included) have terrain that's more suited to rearing sheep than cattle. And, often, cattle pasture will be used for dairy animals rather than beef. Such things are reflected in national or regional cuisines.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Harters

                                          Until relatively recently, steers were the main source of power for farms, so cattle were more valuable alive.

                                        2. The rocky, scrubby terrain are perfect for raising sheep and goats. The sheep are grazers and eat mainly the short grass and the goats are browsers and eat the tougher, taller, and brushier vegetation. When grazed together, the goats and sheep benefit each other because they prefer different species of vegetation.

                                          Unfortunately, goat doesn't bring out the same yummy ideas of eating as lamb does, especially to North Americans who aren't used to eating goat. Therefore, goat is often labelled as lamb and when young, it tastes very similar. I'd bet that goat is being served quite frequently, it's just called "lamb", which is too bad, since it is quite delicious.

                                          33 Replies
                                          1. re: earthygoat

                                            i'd like to see where you find goat as lamb. kid has a different look, taste, fat etc...

                                            1. re: Gastronomos

                                              I raise goats because they do well on the property we own. My neighbours raise sheep because they grow better on the pasture they have. We'll often switch up an animal just for variety and as long as the animal is under one year of age and has never been used for breeding, there is very little difference in flavour. If I have to make a judgement call on goat flavour, it's more mild than lamb, as long as it's young. The only difference I have noticed, maybe due to the fat or collagen present, is that goat meat seems more "sticky".

                                              We've also had various ethnic buyers come to our farm to buy goat. When discussing the animals, they would often use the words lamb, goat, sheep and mutton interchangeably, despite there being no sheep around. There was no language barrier. In many cultures, sheep and goats are used interchangeably in cooking, others, not so much.

                                              1. re: Gastronomos

                                                Church! We have meal together after the evening easter service and communion. Mageritsa or Avgolemono and some wine. The next day a lunch familys and friends usually have a table and bring what ever dishes they want and the church provides the lamb or last year the goat (which they didn't tell most people!)

                                              2. re: earthygoat

                                                I have no idea whether Greek restaurants in tourist restaurants are passing off goat as lamb. But I believe it is fairly common in Spanish tourist areas, so wouldnt be surprised. I presume restaurateurs would assume the mainly north European customer base would be "happier" eating lamb and would not know the difference. And I reckon they'd be right. But, I agree with you, earthygoat, goat meat is delicious and I wish restaurants would properly offer it more often.

                                                1. re: Harters

                                                  Exactly! The goat industry has tried to make the goat meat name "chevon" more popular to make it more appealing, but it just hasn't taken off. Unfortunate.

                                                  1. re: earthygoat

                                                    it is a shame that goat, the most popular meat in the world, isn't as popular in the west.

                                                    "kid" doesn't sound like it belongs on a plate.

                                                    kid goat, say, 6 months, is often prepared in different ways than lamb in Greece.

                                                    Mutton is reserved for the shepherds. it's generally not found in city markets. and i define mutton as lamb that's really a sheep.

                                                    1. re: Gastronomos

                                                      Where I am in the world, mutton has had years of unpopularity and had become pretty much unavailable. However, things have started to change in the last 5 years or so and it's now being prized as a premium meat and becoming easier to find.

                                                      1. re: Gastronomos

                                                        <<goat, the most popular meat in the world,>>
                                                        gastro, i googled this to verify it, but haven't read the entries yet. I can't accept this in my head; can you help me see it as possible?
                                                        doesn't it mean that the larger populations in the world: China, Russia, India, U.S. would have to eat predominantly goat? and do you think that's true? thx for your help.

                                                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                          according to UN FAO statistics going back 50 years goat/lamb/sheep meat has never been higher than #4 in global consumption, behind pork, beef and poultry.

                                                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                            Goat is definitely the most popular meat in India. many of the dishes that are lamb in Indian Restaurants used to be goat. Goats need very little to survive and they aren't forbidden for religious reasons such as cows and pigs.

                                                            1. re: Kalivs

                                                              thx, kal, v. helpful. Are chickens seen much in the rural areas?

                                                              1. re: Kalivs

                                                                According to FAO data, India has the lowest per capita meat consumption in the world.

                                                                1. re: paulj

                                                                  lots of vegetarians. Meat is expensive. I have had chicken once in India way back in the 70s. I remember it being very stringy. But, from talking to family, it has gotten much better. Unfortunately, when I visit, they all pretend to be vegetarians.

                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                    well yes, that would make perfect sense and I might be tempted to call that a 'duh', given that india prob has (amongst its larger population) the largest number of vegetarians of any country.

                                                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                      The numbers for the 3 lowest countries in the FAO database are interesting:

                                                                      Democratic Republic of the Congo
                                                                      0.5 beef, 0.4 pork, 1.0 poultry, 0.3 ovine, 2.4 other

                                                                      1.3 beef, 0.0 pork, 1.2 poultry, 1.4 ovine, 0.1 other

                                                                      1.5 beef, 0.4 pork, 0.6 poultry, 0.6 poultry, 0.1 other

                                                                      The Congo 'other' probably is 'bush meat'.

                                                                      Banglandesh is mostly Muslim, hence the 0 pork.

                                                                      I suspect the Indian non-vegetarians are split among Hindu, Muslim, and Christian.

                                                              2. re: Gastronomos

                                                                gastro, since you didn't respond to me before, you may do the same now, but i did finally spend some time researcyhing global goat consumption. here are the 2 best sites to get a quick overview:


                                                                goat consumption global:


                                                                Basically, in terms of total pounds consumed, goat/sheep make up a tiny percent (6% recently) of total global meat consumption. So when you use the word 'popular' you might want to define what that means exactly.

                                                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                  lol a 'opinionated chef' against a greek, this should be interesting. Don't you know you both are always right!?

                                                                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                    from the link you provided, "As of 2010 goat is eaten by more than 70% of the world's population"

                                                                    I guess, but i'm sure someone will choose to view it much differently, that 70% is a 'popular' number.

                                                                    but, before anyone comes to crucify me, please note that I didn't do an in depth market study of total goat consumption in the niche markets of the US or abroad and there might be slight variations in counting sheep, err, goats, in such places as Mongolia or Jamaica. The GCC of 'chevon' worldwide maybe skewed toward a strong beef lobby and pork does indeed feed the world.

                                                                    1. re: Gastronomos

                                                                      tsk tsk, one only need look beyond that suspect 70 to the other charts i provided you- to see that goat/sheep as 6% of the world meat consumption is not a ' most popular' qualifier.
                                                                      but no biggie. I've learned alot from you on this thread, so thank you.
                                                                      daislander, we have an expression in our house that comes from My Love's family. We usually use it when we have pie in our face:
                                                                      "Vote for me, cause I'm always right and I never lie" :-}

                                                                    2. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                      The 70% number in the Wiki article is meaningless until we see the cited source. Since there are few taboos about eating mutton and goat, there might well be more people groups that consume it than the other meats, but that does not mean that the world wide consumption is high. The blogspot article seeks to debunk the 70% claim.

                                                                      That article cites a 2007 official data source.


                                                                      From that the data for Greece (consumption per person) is:

                                                                      18.1 beef
                                                                      27.1 pork
                                                                      13.6 poultry
                                                                      13.7 sheep and goat
                                                                      2.3 other
                                                                      74.8 total

                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                        if 70% of people eat goat, but only occasionally, does it make it unpopular?

                                                                        1. re: Gastronomos

                                                                          Reminds me of "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" I don't know if the exact percentage means anything in the end.

                                                                            1. re: Gastronomos

                                                                              And how many angels are there in total, I wonder? I do know a few by name.

                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                I met an angel once. she was eating chevon in one hand, lamb in the other. asked me which I prefer. I said 70% of one and 6% of the other.

                                                                        2. re: paulj

                                                                          Could the 70% possibly refer to fact that goat can be easily raised in most areas of the world, which means that it is available to 70% of the worlds population? What I mean is that unlike most domestic livestock, especially breeds developed in the past 100 years, goats can thrive under most environmental conditions, where other species would die. There is no way a broiler chicken can live without human help. So, even though humans eat more of the other species, more people have access to goat, or could if need be.

                                                                          1. re: earthygoat

                                                                            A vegetarian ignorantly cites a Washington Post article. According to the comments the source of this 70% is a Washington Post article

                                                                            The WP article now has this header:
                                                                            "Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that goat is the world's most-consumed meat and makes up 70 percent of the red meat eaten globally. In fact, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, pork is the most-consumed meat in the world. As of 2010, the most recent year for which figures have been analyzed, goat made up about 6 percent of red meat consumption worldwide."

                                                                            From FAO data we can estimate the Ovine production is about 6% of the total red meat production. But FAO does not try to separate goat from lamb/mutton. Given that some of the heaviest consumers of this category are New Zealand and Australia, I think it is safe to say that most that 6% is sheep, not goat. That would put goat in the 1-2% range.

                                                                        3. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                          The 70% claim in the Wikipedia article is totally off. There's some sort of editing war going on.

                                                                    3. re: Harters

                                                                      Interesting - the first place I had goat (well, kid) was at a touristy restaurant in Spain, clearly labeled "cabrito". It's odd it hasn't caught on in the US, since goat cheese has gotten quite popular - and breeders have to do something with the half of the herd that don't produce milk. The meat does show up regularly at my local Mexican grocery.

                                                                      1. re: tardigrade

                                                                        There is a growing demand for goat meat in The US and Canada, especially near urban centres with large immigrant populations who used to have goat meat regularly in their homeland. But, you are right, it hasn't caught on with people who have always eaten beef, chicken, pork and lamb.

                                                                        1. re: earthygoat

                                                                          NYTimes article from a few years ago discussing rising popularity of goat in some US kitchens:


                                                                  2. Lamb is in fact the original herd animal deliberately cultivated on a large scale in ancient times, internationally, not just in Greece. (Think about ancient references you've seen -- how many descriptions of sheep and shepherds, compared to cattle or pigs?)

                                                                    This surfaced in a modern way when the two major foods that demonstrated the smallest allergy footprint across the human genome, the two foods to which humans had longest and most widely adapted, proved to be rice and lamb.

                                                                    The reason the "New World" acquired such meat-heavy diets is simple. Meat was more abundant because it was so much cheaper than in the old world. That's a factor in the overall difference between Italian and Italian-American recipe traditions, for instance -- far more meat and cheese seen in the Americas.

                                                                    Vast grazing lands in the US Plains, Brazil, Argentina etc., supported large-scale cattle cultivation. Compared to regions with much longer human settlement, many of which had long since depleted their soil ecosystems until they died off. I understand that some famous ancient regions now known for rocks or desert were much more fertile within recorded history.

                                                                    As of 1900 (the Fannie Farmer cookbook noted), beef surpassed the traditional pork as the leading animal meat in the US diet. (By the late 1900s it was being in turn displaced by poultry and seafood.)

                                                                    16 Replies
                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                      Actually, the original reason meat was much more common in Euro-American diets (compared to diets in much of Western Europe) was because of the abundance and free availability of *game*. In Western Europe, many forests (including the game located in them) were the preserve of aristocratic and/or ecclesiastical owners. Moreover, most peasants were tenants, rather than owners, and tenants only had hunting rights to the extent granted by landowners. This is one reason people were attracted to emigration to a place where landownership prospects and open public lands were abundant....

                                                                      1. re: Karl S

                                                                        The lack of meat in the diet continued into the 20th century. It would be rare for a working class British family to eat meat more than a couple of times a week, at the beginning of the century. When men came to enlist into the army in 1914, they would write home saying how good and plentiful the food was. Many would put on weight. A stark contrast to their middle class comrades who thought army food to be very poor in comparision with home.

                                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                                          in stark contrast to Greece, where the foreign armies stole all livestock to feed the soldiers leaving the farmers who raised the livestock without meat. or dairy.
                                                                          i know of many who went many years, not days or weeks or months, Years without meat.

                                                                          1. re: Gastronomos

                                                                            Would that have been the Nazi occupation during WW2, the British "occupation" round Thessalonika in WW1, or the much earlier occupations by the Ottoman Empire before Greek independance in the early 19th century?

                                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                                              Yes. Yes. and Yes. and, BTW, there were more.

                                                                              and let's not start with Cyprus...

                                                                              1. re: Gastronomos

                                                                                I'd be particularly interested in reading about food related matters involving the British in Greece during WW1. Is there any source material (in English) about the theft of livestock and presumably hardships for the civilian population. I know Greeks were major suppliers of fresh produce to the Army during its time at Gallipoli in 1915, but presumably, they were Greeks from the nearby islands, rather than mainlanders.

                                                                                By the by, my father in law was one of the occupying troops in Cyprus. My wife started school there and her younger brother was born there. Someone threw a grenade at her school bus - terrorist or freedom fighter would be an interesting discussion but not for this board.

                                                                                1. re: Gastronomos

                                                                                  An older gentleman friend of mine had the same situation, he had one of the biggest farms in Hungary and they took over the whole thing. Except for a little shack that they left his mother in and gave her a chicken once a month. They managed to get over here and left it all behind.

                                                                          2. re: Karl S

                                                                            Yes indeed, Karl S; historically in the Americas, game was the original easily-available meat -- just as it had originally been in Europe. Davidson in "Oxford Companion to Food" cites game as chief European meat source and an important part of diets there from the end of the last ice age, 10,000 BC. By 7000 BC, "sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs were all undergoing domestication in the Middle East."

                                                                            The 9000 years since then created the modern situation I mentioned, where heavy New-World domesticated animal production followed abundant pasture. With such upshots as Argentine gauchos averaging several _pounds_ of daily beef consumption, and New Zealand sheep herds outnumbering people 20:1. The past 150 or so years evolved the modern cooking traditions (and most of the world's famous cookbooks documenting them). Among these modern traditions are a US diet heavy with inexpensive domesticated meats, and derived variations of old-world cuisines (Italian, Chinese) that use vastly more meat than in the original countries.

                                                                            It might also be worth mentioning that from those 7000-BC origins to a few generations ago, "grass-fed" as adjective for beef, lamb, etc. was redundant; grass is what herds normally eat. Corn diets and "CAFO" husbandry are relatively very recent; the livestock our ancestors ate and adapted to were grass-fed, so it should surpise no one that factors like the lipid chemistry in grass-fed meat are more closely matched to human dietary needs.

                                                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                Indeed. Creamtop milk from grass-fed cows is something I hope we can see more of on our shelves. (Homogenization is convenient, but it's not cost-free for everyone - people who find it difficult to digest dairy may have lactose intolerand and/or a problem with homogenization.) Anyway, not something that was historically a problem in Greek cuisine!

                                                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                                                  My impression is that in countries like Greece, milk is mostly consumed in the form of yogurt and cheese. Lactose intolerance is more common in the Mediterranean than northern Europe.

                                                                                  The 2 Sundays before Great Lent (in Orthodox practice) are Meatfare Sunday and Cheesefare Sunday. After that there is no dairy until Pascha (Easter) Sunday. In Russian Orthodox practice, a Paska is a big cheesecake made with 'all' the dairy that accumulated over that past 50 days.

                                                                                  Cheesefare Sunday is a bit like the Catholic/English Shrove Tuesday (make pancakes to use up eggs and milk).

                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                    "in countries like Greece, milk is mostly consumed in the form of yogurt and cheese."

                                                                                    paulj, you may have touched on something with even deeper implications that have not yet made it into mainstream US media.

                                                                                    A few years ago at a wine-industry conference I heard a remarkable overview talk by a representative of the US physicians' organization "Medical Friends of Wine." He reviewed the history of media coverage (including several episodes of TV's "60 Minutes" over the years) of some famous diet and health statistics usually dubbed "French Paradox" and "Mediterranean diet." He then mentioned something I had not seen before: Gross comparison of milk-related food intakes has tended in the past to obscure a difference possibly medically important: the Medit'n countries tend to get their large intake of these foods in fermented forms, like cheeses and yogurt, unlike the US, which has more consumption of products like ice cream and whipped, unfermented cream. While all these products begin as milk, their metabolic fate, including the role of the associated calcium, is different for fermented forms, different enough to potentially contribute to the famous morbidity-rate differences seen when comparing different regions that have similar total intake of milk products.

                                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                      Well, there's also the issue that milk in northern Europe was from grass-fed cattle for much longer than in the US. Generations of my dairying ancestors in Ireland lived into their 90s consuming lots of milk and (outside famine times) butter. (The most traditional Irish foodstuff is buttermilk - which is low in fat, but not quite as low in fat as industrial cultured buttermilk.) There are differences in the lipid profile of fats from grass-fed animals vs corn-fed animals.

                                                                                      1. re: Karl S

                                                                                        Yes, mentioned lipid chemistry earlier.

                                                                                        But don't forget that corn-fed beef is, historically, extremely recent (strikingly so, is my recollection from reading some older print sources, from before the subject became recently fashionable -- IIRC, even most US beef was grass-fed as recently as 1900 or later).

                                                                                        So the overwhelming majority of human beef- and dairy-eating ancestors, including of people now living in the US, got these foods from grass-fed animals. And evolved to adapt to grass-fed sources. Because the overwhelming majority of ancestors of all of us lived earlier than a few generations ago.

                                                                                        Just as for most of its few centuries of use, "ketchup" wasn't sweetened, and for most of human history, "trans-" fatty acids were basically unheard-of in human diets.

                                                                                  2. re: Karl S

                                                                                    They could always try goat milk! I will never forget waking up in Rethimnon, pouring some milk from the fridge on my cereal while everyone was still sleeping and taking that first bite!... goat milk+cereal not a good combo! esp when your not expecting it.

                                                                                    1. re: daislander

                                                                                      That's unfortunate! Fresh goat's milk is sweet and creamy and delicious with cereal. If it's goaty, it is either old, the does were running with a buck, or possibly the does ate some badly flavoured food.

                                                                            1. Just thought I'd throw this in.... 'The Philosopher's Kitchen' has (sort of) updated recipes from ancient Greece. Kind of heavy on organ meats but some of the recipes are delicious. I've tried a few - especially the lamb with pomegranate & onions was very good.

                                                                              Available here from Amazon: