When the Dutch settlers arrived in South Africa, crossing the Cape, their started making biltong (literally ‘rump strip’) using salted impala or ostrich meat that was hung out to dry outdoors. Little did they know that, decades later, just mentioning the word “biltong” to a South African expat would be enough to make him (and it does seem to be more of a man thing…) go all misty-eyed and tearful.
It may be hard for ‘normal’ people to understand how some chewy strips of dry beef can cause such strong emotional responses, but for South Africans biltong is inextricably linked with home and childhood memories. Some may even have been weened off their mother’s milk with the stuff. So, the unspoken goal of any South African living abroad is to find some good biltong to keep that umbilical connection with their homeland alive. Easier said than done. Either too dry, too hard, wrong cut, wrong spices, it seems that good biltong in the UK is as rare as the meat used to produce it.
Well, the wait is over for all you nostalgics. Finally, a couple of London insurance salesmen have taken it upon themselves to produce what has been described as the “best biltong of the northern hemisphere”. A year ago, Moshe Tatz and Marc Cohen started looking into the viability of making their premium biltong as a small business enterprise. After much searching and juggling with finances and logistics they managed to find the right meat suppliers to get them started. What drove them was the fact that one Moshe Tatz’s cousins was himself a highly praised kosher biltong manufacturer in South Africa who, after some prodding, agreed to teach the two entrepreneurs the secrets of his acclaimed meaty snack, a highly confidential method that made his biltong an object of relentless desire.
“We knew that in order to succeed we had to make the best possible biltong.” says Moshe, who is the son of revered spiritual teacher and author Rabbi Akiva Tatz, “It’s all in the process rather than the ingredients. Yes, the meat has to be right and cut properly then cured in vinegar and spices, a well-balanced mix including salt, pepper and coriander, then hung to dry. But it’s the order and length in which you do things that is key and highly secretive. My cousin taught us all the tricks and, after a bit of trial and error, we got it just right. We also got a Hechsher from the London Bet Din which was great”. And so The Biltong Factory was born.
Of course the ultimate test would be what local South Africans would think of it and would they place some orders. The response was not only a unanimous thumbs-up but within a few weeks the two partners were unable to cope with the number of orders coming in. “We have a very gourmet, personal approach to our business. People place their orders on Tuesdays and we deliver it fresh to their door on Fridays, in time for Shabbos. Customers can choose exactly how they want their biltong cut, how fatty or lean, etc. Some batches come out better than others depending on the quality of the meat we receive but so far we’ve been selling out every single week!” Customers are queuing up and some have even placed a weekly standing order.
So how chewy is it? “Well,” says Tatz, “the old school biltong was very hard and dry but today there has been a generational shift towards more moist, softer, easier to eat biltong which is a lot more tasty, despite the shorter shelf life.”
Is it healthy?: “It’s pure protein with very little fat so it is, effectively, a healthy food, apart from maybe the salt content.”
So what’s the next step? “We have now three different flavours available: Original, Sweet Chilli and Peri-Peri (very hot). Some people only swear by the Original but others like a bit of experimentation and enjoy the variety. So we are now looking at possibly adding other variations but also to expand the business by adding other high-quality and creative products that people might enjoy together with their biltong.”
To conclude, Moshe spells it out: “Some people are obsessed with biltong. Even small children. They get extremely emotional about it. It’s a drug!”
So, there we go. Biltong rules! To find out what the fuss is all about read our review here and maybe start your own addiction.
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