It seemed a bit strange, sending the English chick off to make that South African stalwart, biltong, but Friday morning saw me and a host of other journalists gathered around wearing attractive hairnets and white coats, watching a large lady carve up an even larger piece of cow. We were there to attend the launch of the Stellenbosch Hills Wines/Freddy Hirsch Biltong Competition, now into its fourth year of running. Freddie Hirsch supplies most of the 8,000 independent butchers’ shops in SA – we have far more than most other countries, which should be a source of pride and support – and has two standard biltong mixes which can then be jazzed up to make customised biltong. Stellenbosch Hills have been extolling the synergies between biltong and wine for some time now, via a tasting at their cellar door, and since my husband does some work for the winery, I was very keen to go along and see how these synergies panned out in practice.
So what’s in the mix? According to the food technologists from Freddy Hirsch, it’s usually the following, roughly in descending order – salt, crushed coriander, black pepper, ground coriander, beef stock powder, allspice, sugar, ground cloves, Worcester sauce and vinegar. The proportions are a closely-guarded secret, although they do advise against too much cloves (numbs your mouth apparently) and too much vinegar (makes your biltong taste sharp). We tasted through the ingredients as Elize the meat technologist demonstrated how to cut your meat, before they handed over our packs and off we went.
Making biltong is far easier than I expected. Here it is, step by step.
1. Get your meat cut correctly. Best cuts are silverside or thick end. You can get the meat cut for you by a good butcher (needs to be cut along the grain, trimmed for sinew and have no snags holes or cuts which can go bad during the process).
2. Make up your spice mix. We started with a basic mix and then all added our extra fave flavours. You need roughly 40-50g of spice per kilo of meat.
3. Tip your meat into a large plastic bag, add your spices and massage them into your meat. Leave it for a few hours and massage again then leave it overnight in the fridge
4. Hang your biltong in your biltong cupboard (kindly provided for us by Stellenbosch Hills/Freddie Hirsch, but you can get yours from www.creativehousewares.co.za ) for a few days. Don’t let the pieces touch so that the air can circulate freely. And keep it away from the cat!
5. The meat will lose approximately 40% of its moisture by day 3 and if you like your biltong drier than that, just keep it a bit longer. Then slice and enjoy.
It really is as easy as that and with silverside retailing at approximately R60 a kg versus R250- R300+ a kilo for biltong, making it yourself really is a no-brainer.
Make biltong and WIN!
And if the fun and value isn’t enough, you can also win prizes. Check out www.stellenbosch-hills.co.za for all the details of this year’s competition. It isn’t just open to professionals and butchers, absolutely anyone can have a go and let me tell you, after my efforts over the weekend, I certainly intend to be one of them! The R150 entry fee gets you a bottle of very nice wine, a spice pack, delivery and entry into the competition – all you have to do is perfect your recipe and send off some of your best biltong to be judged as a match for the Shiraz. Prizes to the value of R60,000 are available for the winners - I just hope my British Biltong is one of them – huzzah!