Saturday, October 03, 2015

Goat (lamb) on the rod? Feta (sheep or goat) cheese...and other non-interchangeable things.

We, (at least most of my siblings and I) grew up in the country about four miles out of town. Dad and Mother grew up in town, started their family...and Dad's dental office was in town. Town was New Castle, Pa...part of the rust-belt located about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh. 

By the time we came along...from the late 20s to the early 40s, New Castle went through some significant change. During the early 1900s many refugees from Eastern Europe...through Ellis Island...were brought in to work in the steel and other mills that populated Western Pennsylvania. Many ethnic cultures sprung up in our region...Italian, Greek, Syrian, Lebanese, and others. The result was a plethora of cultural exchanges. 

The Syrians were Roman Catholic...which later confused me...and intermarried with the Italians. But they baked Syrian bread and had Lamb on the Rod...a special delight to this day. A girl in my class was a DeCarbo, but her mother was Syrian, as an example, and she could rattle off the Syrian dishes she liked. Lebanese were much the same...Christian, but ethnic foodies. It was, however, always lamb dishes, not goat.

When I got to the Eastern Mediterranean  in the early 1960s shish-kabob that was in the port cities of Greece and Lebanon  (where our ship stopped) it was always goat not lamb...the goats were hanging, New York dressed, in the shops ready to be consumed. (We called them Hepatitis sandwiches.) This puzzled me. To me...goats were used for milk and to mow down thickets...sheep were consumed and used for wool...they clipped pastures close but were not good for thicket clearing because: 1) they did not eat or digest coarse cellulose, and 2) they would get burrs and sticks in their coats rendering their fleece less valuable at clipping time. Goats were skinned, not clipped (hardly sustainable.)

We bovine lovers scoffed at milking goats. Just laughed at it...had to put the doe on a platform to even try to milk her...and their udders...were something else. But people paid a premium for goat milk and goat cheese. There must be something there. Big goats...really big ones, were used in coal mines to pull carts in the crowded mines...they were beasts of burden. Sheep were never used this way.

If you get my drift here, I was biased toward sheep and lambs because...well, because Jesus said the sheep went to the right and goats to the left...and we all know that right-handedness is preferable...or at least the Bible indicates as much.

Genetically, I learned in college, sheep and goats could be inter-bred, but the offspring are sterile, much like mules. Sheep have 54-55 chromosomes and goats have 100, if I remember correctly. So they are closely related but not inter-related as are breeds of cattle. These little ruminants (cud chewing with four stomach chambers) are each unique. So Bible Scholars, why do we look up to one and down on the other? I would appreciate any insights readers might have.

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