Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published February 25th 2014
Vegetarians, nothing to see here, move along
The problem with being a hunter-gatherer is that once you and the family have tracked down and killed a buffalo, what are you going to do with the left-over meat after the first few meals ('Monday, you like buffalo, Tuesday, you like buffalo, Wednesday, you like buffalo, Thursday, you like buffalo, now all of a sudden, Friday, you don't like buffalo!')
Biltong and Jerky fro DJays (Photo courtesy of D Sutherland-Bruce)
Before canning and refrigeration the only realistic options for preservation were smoking the meat, drying it or, rather later in our development, salting it.
Not surprisingly, these solutions occurred to tribes all over the world. Bresaola in Italy, Carne Seca in Mexico, Cecina in Spain, Pemmican and Jerky in North America and in South Africa it's Biltong.
There are subtle differences between them all, but the basic principle is the same. The meat is cut into steaks, soaked in some strong marinade, spiced and then air dried or smoked more or less quickly.
Now, biltong is a great and popular foodstuff in South Africa, and emigres miss it terribly. (I speak from experience, here). So when butcher Derek and his wife Jo came out to Perth in 1988 they made some up to an old family Cape Dutch recipe in their kitchen for themselves and a few friends.
Those few friends mentioned D and J's 'lekker biltong' to a few friends and before long the two had to rent commercial premises to keep up demand. This home started business now occupies a purpose-built factory and supplies D.Jays Biltong and Jerky all over Australia.
Leo McGarry once famously said in The West Wing, 'There's two things you don't want people to watch you make – law and sausages'. If he'd thought about it a bit he'd have added 'and biltong'.
The process is not pretty, but it is incredibly clean and rigidly controlled for hygiene. As always the case with quality products it requires quality ingredients. D.Jays uses top quality Australian beef, and only the silver and top sides.
Although biltong can be made out of virtually any meat – beef, Springbok, Kudu, bison, ostrich, emu, chicken, and so on, D.Jays use only beef for reasons of preventing even the possibility of cross-contamination, which is one of the reasons they have earned the food safe award HACCP.
The beef is prepared as either biltong or jerky, the main difference between the two being the marinade and the fact that jerky is sliced before being dried and biltong is dried in whole steaks.
Only biltong can be cured 'moist', allowing a tender result, whereas jerky and dry biltong is almost cardboard-like and stiffly leathery once finished. It also looks awful – but it tastes sublime. As you chew, the essence of good beefsteak fills your mouth flavoured by the spices and herbs used in its creation.
Chilli, Pepper, Soy, all are used it the manufacture of this high protein, low fat, easily portable foodstuff, making it perfect for hikers, low impact diets, those who are gluten sensitive and almost everyone but vegetarians.
Biltong is not cheap - but remember when you buy a kilo of biltong, you're buying nearly three and a half kilos of prime Australian beef.
It may be eaten as is, as a snack or meal, or, sliced thinly, in salads or even added to stews and dishes to improve the meat flavour.
You can purchase D.Jays Biltong and Jerky directly from the factory in Malaga, or at pubs, BWS, IGA Supermarkets and on line from their website here.
I was fortunate enough to be given a selection to taste and am happy to confirm that my original choice (the moist biltong I buy from IGA Woodlake Village) is still my favourite, but that the Jerky has a fine rich taste flavoured, but not overwhelmingly so, by the soy sauce used in its manufacture. The fabulously popular Chilli Jerky was a trifle too hot for me, but I can see its attraction.
Soft Biltong, thiny sliced (Photo courtesy D Sutherland-Bruce)
If you have never tried biltong or jerky, overcome its weird look and try some. If you have tried others, try D.Jays original traditional Cape Dutch style, I don't think you'll be sorry.