Monday, September 29, 2008

AA Biltong

AA BiltongBledie Lekker!

Which I believe means "bloody tasty", is the exclaimation on the label of this brand of biltong by AA Biltong. Produced by a specialty food shop called South African Food Shop located in Matthews, NC, it's marketed as something as close to being authentic "biltong".

Biltong is of course a type of jerky originating from South Africa. As the history suggests, the British colonized the area and found it fertile for growing vineyards. Locals discovered the vinegar by-product was an excellent (and tasty) means for preserving meats. Based on what I can tell, this is what primarily sets apart biltong from jerky. Biltong uses vinegar, while jerky uses salt.

South African Food Shop has a webpage describing how it got into the business of making biltong.

Interestingly, this package does not provide a nutrition facts. Instead, there are labels on this similar to what you'd find on a package of raw meat, warning consumers to heat the product to at least 160 degrees F, as well as safe handling instructions. I contacted South African Food Shop to ask if I should cook this. They said "no, by all means no". I'm supposed to eat it straight out of the package. They have to place these warnings because the USDA considers this a raw meat, even though it's apparently cured and ready to eat. The Shop says that their biltong is "USDA approved".

Ingredients

Beef, salt, vinegar, natural spices, sugar, potassium sorbate, sodium bicarbonate, potassium nitrate.

Taste

There is indeed a vinegar-like taste that comes through in this immediately. That's followed by a slight salty taste. The aroma that comes from this package of biltong resembles something like salami or prosciutto.

Not being an expert on biltong, I can't tell you if this tastes like the real biltong you'd find in South Africa, though I'm told that biltong varies in taste and consistency depending on who's making it, just like with jerky.

But, when I talked to the guy at South African Food Shop he warned me this stuff is very addicting. That seems to be supported by everything I've read about biltong. It often starts with British citizens visiting South Africa and being introduced to biltong. Then when they return to Britain, they discover they can't find it being sold anywhere. There are stories of travellers sneaking packages of the stuff into the country.

The predominant taste I get from this brand of biltong is that vinegar taste. It's not a tangy taste at all, much more mild, bland, and more consistent with the kind of flavors you'd expect from traditional British cuisine. If you've ever had a "banger" you might know the taste I'm talking about.

The secondary taste in this is the salt, of which I'd say meets the level of "too salty". Each piece I ate didn't necessarily have a lot of salty taste, but for whatever reason, I'm finding a salt scorching starting to build in my mouth after about 3 ounces of this stuff.

The natural meat flavors don't come out very well in this. I can certainly taste it in there, but it's not a strong taste.

There's also some visible pieces of seed-spice in this, I'm wondering if it might be dill seed? It's too round to be dill seed I think. But it has a sharp, dill taste. That taste, however, is only noticed when you bite into that seed. Otherwise, it doesn't really leach into the meat. See the last photo below.

As for being extremely addicting, I could see how this could be so to a South African, since it does indeed have that "british" flavor to it, if you know what I mean. But being an American born and bred, with our diversity of cultures, my palate was refined in a different way. I like the vinegar taste, the bit of salt, but I want more of the natural meat flavors, and I'd like some more spiciness.

Overall, I think it's good. This stuff is CLEARLY different than any of the beef jerky made here in the USA. It looks different, it smells different, and it tastes different, and it scores points with me just because I love trying different things. But this biltong also reinforces my belief that Brits all across the globe love bland food.

Meat Consistency

These appear to be slices of whole meat, sliced medium thickness, and in small pieces.

This is a soft and tender style of biltong, being very easy to tear apart, and easy to chew. The small pieces are such you'd never have to tear this down; each piece is mouth-sized.

There's a good deal of fat marbilization to be seen on these pieces, but I don't find this biltong to have an excessive fatty taste. I do, however, taste a small degree of fat, and that fat does indeed contribute to the overall flavor of this biltong.

Some of the pieces had some tendon, but very few. Much of this was free of the chewy stuff.

AA Biltong

AA Biltong

AA Biltong
Product Value

I paid $11.95 for this 8 ounce package from South African Food Shop's website. That works out to a price of $1.49 per ounce, putting this into the average price range. However, when you add the $9.95 for shipping, you're looking at $2.74 per ounce, making this expensive.

For general jerky (biltong) snacking purposes, it's a fair value. I do find this having a snackability, though the saltiness will eventually cause me to stop before reaching the end of the bag. The high price, particularly if you're buying this online, makes it hard to justify buying this on a regular basis, unless you really have to have biltong.

But if you're like me, a jerky lover, it's worth the expense to include this biltong in your repertoire of meat snack experiences. This tastes nothing like the beef jerky we Americans are accustomed to.

Rating

I'm giving this a good rating.

It's good mainly because it's different, and because I do like that vinegar taste in the meat. But it's also rather salty, and offers only a little bit of the natural meat flavors. Moreover, there's a blandness to this.

Although, the seed-spice that I photographed above adds a nice burst of flavor when bitten into that I think works well with this vinegar-tasting meat. Overall this biltong reminds me of the italian deli meats, maybe because of its aroma and physical appearance.

Get a light-tasting beer, like a honey blonde ale, to counter the heavy saltiness.

Rating: Good

Buy this online:

4 comments:

  1. That "seed spice" is, I believe, (based on the picture) Coriander.

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  2. Thanks for this article although I (a South African of largely British decsent) don't appreciate your references to "British" throughout - following your logic jerky would also be completely British since the US was also colonized by Brits at one point in time! Therefore note: you find biltong (more Nguni, French, Dutch, German than British) in South Africa and not in Britain! Unless made by expats, of course.

    And as for the comment "with our diversity of cultures" - South Africa boasts as rich a diversity of cultures as the US, if not more so with 11 official languages. The "bland British flavors" account for only a small section of our history. Check out a SA cookbook at the library / bookstore, you'll be blown away by the amazing variety of European, East Asian, and Indian influences. Or even better - go and visit and taste for yourself!

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  3. The round seed spice you refer to is roughly ground coriander. This is what gives you the "hit" in the mug as you bite into it. Yum! The best way to eat biltong is very dry: Tearing it from the sides with your incisors! It can make your gums swell after 300 grams or so but it is "blerrie lekker" For the gentler palate, there is "droe wors" which is long, thin sausage strands of dried beef/venison. Basically dried sausage meat...Scrummy!
    Biltong or droe wors is easily and cheaply made in your own home!!!! using a large carton box with ventilation holes and a 60 watt bulb...to see how visit http://exzanian.blogspot.com/

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  4. I think there are some parts lacking in this review of biltong, but maybe that comes from not having lived in South Africa, like myself. I find the best way to enjoy biltong is to let it soak in mouth, sucking out the juicy flavors, much like a mint in your mouth. American beef jerky is good in it's own right so I'm not even going to compare South Africans/British to Americans, like the mistake the reviewer made. My sister made the point that alot of American beef jerkies are smoked, and biltong is not; maybe this is why biltong is thought of to be bland.

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