What is Biltong

Let me give you some background and history about your favorite new snack.  It is pronounced /ˈbɪlˌtɒŋ/

The most important thing to know about Biltong is that it is South Africa’s favorite cured meat snack. A snack that they love and are passionate about. One that they can almost not live without. One that you will grow to love given half the chance.

Biltong is a variety of cured meat that originated in South Africa. Various types of meats are used to make it, but the most popular is beef. It is typically made from raw fillets of meat cut into strips following the grain of the muscle.

Indigenous South African people such as the Khoikhoi developed a preparation method to preserve meat without refrigeration. After European settlers (Dutch, German, French) arrived in South Africa in the early 17th century, they learned how to cure and dry meat from the indigenous South Africans. Preparation involved applying vinegar and rubbing the strips of meat with a mixture of salt and spices including, pepper, coriander and cloves. The need for preservation in the new colony was pressing. Building up herds of livestock took a long time but with indigenous game in abundance, traditional methods were available to preserve large masses of meat. Remember that iceboxes and fridges had not been invented yet.

Biltong as it is today evolved from the dried meat carried by the wagon-travelling Voortrekkers, who needed stocks of durable food as they migrated from the Cape Colony north and north-eastward (away from British rule) into the interior of Southern Africa during the Great Trek. The meat was preserved and hung to be dried for a week after which it would be ready for packing in cloth bags and enjoyed later.

The tradition of making Biltong continued through the centuries and spice recipes were passed on through generations. In some cases they are top family secrets, not to be shared.

Biltong and Droëwors (cured sausage) is readily available in butcher stores and super markets throughout South Africa. Very few families make it at home anymore. They just buy it from their nearest supplier.

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Droeëwors (Cured Beef Sausage)
Droëwors (Cured Beef Sausage)

 

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