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Getting the Biltong Bug!
Biltong to me had been a bit of a mystery to me until recently. I was under the impression eating bits of meat as a snack like this would be like pork scratchings, which I hate! A friend of mine was eating a Chilli version of biltong in the pub recently and curiosity got the better of me. Before I knew it I'd polished off most of the bag for him and had seriously caught the biltong bug!
What is Biltong?
Biltong is a South African delicacy made from marinated meat such as beef, which is dried and thinly sliced. The word blitong comes from the Dutch 'bil' meaning rump and 'tong' meaning strip. I'm glad they used the Dutch translation as I'm not sure I'd fancy rumpstrip so much!
It's said to originate from the 17th century when Dutch settlers went to South Africa with their recipes for dried meat. It was created when these travellers needed stocks of durable food. This stuff is known as a South African delight, but it is really an invention of the Dutch?
You may have seen a similar product called jerky, but it's not the same as biltong. Jerky is often much thinner meat and the marinating and drying processes are different resulting in jerky having a much sweeter taste than biltong.
Supposedly the stuff we get over here in little plastic bags from the supermarket is a far cry from the authentic biltong or jerky from South Africa, but it's still delicious. I hope one day I'll get to try the real thing.
Who are Cruga?
Cruga is a company founded in 1998 with the aim of making the UK wake up to biltong. They seem to have succeeded as the business is now booming, with Cruga products being sold in garages, supermakets, small shops and pubs all over the country and they've been adding further South African inspired products to the Cruga range. Visiting their website, I couldn't believe how much stuff there was and will be making it my mission to sample more!
Unfortunately this 'authentic' product is made in exotic Milton Keynes! Good for food miles though I suppose!
Cruga Biltong comes in many varieties from the beef versions, original peppered and chilli to all sorts of meats like Cstrich and Springbok (clearly a little more authentic as I'm pretty sure Ostrich and Springbok are not native to Milton Keynes!) Playing it safe, I'm reviewing the original beef version!
The biltong comes in different sized bags, though the one you are most likely to find in the supermarkets is the 40g or 50g snack bags, bigger bags can be purchased online.
The bag is very thick plastic and tough to open if you are a weakling like me, but it proves the quality of the product and keeps the biltong lovely and fresh (if meat dried for ages is considered fresh in the first place).
The smell is unlike anything else really, very savoury but pleasant. The pieces of beef vary in size, most about the size of my thumb. They are a gorgeous glossy brown and smooth to the touch. As you chew the pieces they grow in flavour. A lightly spiced very savoury taste, quite a dry flavour but very tasty. They will make you thirsty though so don't go grabbing a bag of these to wolf down with no drink on standby!
Because they are quite chewy and thirst inducing I usually make the bag last two sittings. Of course you don't have to eat these alone and could incorporate them into a variety of dishes.
Nutrition wise, they aren't terribly bad for you - my 50g bag contains just 120 calories, though 5.2g fat and 0.6g salt but I was expecting this to be higher.
This is the only drawback of this stuff. It' described as a 'gourmet delicacy' which basically means it's expensive. My 50g set me back £1.99 in Tesco so expect to pay more on pubs and so on. Learning this , I feel guilty for scoffing my friend's bag.. I shall have to repay him I think!
Having said that, it's not an every day purchase and I'd buy when on offer or as a treat.
Overall a tasty, unusual treat but a little on the pricey side.