2000s Archive

Getting My Goat

continued (page 3 of 4)

The kitchen at La Madonna was open on two sides, with a pile of firewood in the middle of its dirt floor and goat carcasses hanging from hooks in the ceiling. A series of fogones—wood fires—runs along one of the sides, with a heavy pot supported by cinder blocks bubbling above each one. There were no ovens here: The horneado goat is roasted by covering the pot with a flat metal sheet partway through its three-hour cooking time and shoveling burning chunks of wood on top, so the heat comes from underneath and above.

Julián’s chivo guisado is simplicity itself. The meat is cooked until tender with just oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper. Then onion, a little lime juice, a bit of tomato sauce, and water are added to make a gravy. "Nothing more," said Valentín. The free-ranging, oregano-grazing goats of la línea noroeste—the northwest line, as the region bordering Haiti is called (which is also why this style of goat is called chivo liniero)—don’t need much in the way of added ingredients.

Despite all the miles, we’d yet to see a herd of grazing goats. "They’re in the mountains," Julián said, waving a hand toward the northwest. And so we headed 25 miles farther, toward the town of Monte Cristi. The hills crept closer and the landscape became dustier, until the road ended at the ocean.

That evening, Claudio Peña—Caito to his friends—took us to see his cousin’s and his uncle’s goat corrals. "It’s not far," he assured us, but his idea of not far covered a lot more ground than mine—especially when we were bumping at ten miles per hour along an unpaved, unlit, heavily washboarded track, and dusk was falling. "Keep going, keep going," he said, when we slowed for a small herd of goats moving along the shoulder. "There will be more, many more."

He wasn’t kidding. His uncle Moreno’s corrals hold hundreds of the animals, a blur of black and white and chestnut in the fading light. They are let out of their corrals in the morning, Caito explained, to head into the hills, where they spend the day grazing, as do the goats from many other corrals. At day’s end, they regroup with their herd and make their own way back to the correct corral.

Caito pulled a handful of pods off a tree to show me a fruit they also eat. But I hadn’t seen any of the oregano that’s responsible for their sabor. That’s because I was looking for the garden-variety plants I was used to back home. Moreno walked us to a shrub that was easily four feet high, and crumbled a handful of its leaves. The air was suddenly awash with oregano. "In the hills, the bushes are larger than this one," Caito said. "Like small trees."

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