I went in search of the Karoo’s finest biltong and here are some of the biltong makers I met along the way.
KEITH & KAREN MORGAN – THE FARM BUTCHERY – BEDFORD
Behind a solid yellowwood sign announcing ‘The Farm Butchery’ crisp hand-sized wafers of topside called blare [leaves] or ‘donkey’s ears’ fan out of a silver ice bucket and tangles of droëwors [dried sausage] spill over African platters. Business is brisk. Keith Morgan tells me he and his wife, Karen, opened a family butcher in Bedford when the debt inherited with his father’s farm forced them to sell. It was an inadvertent blessing, admits Keith as they are better off in the business of adding value. The curtain of biltong behind them took two weeks to produce and will turn over hundreds of thousands of Rands. ‘Our competition is two stalls down!’ says Karen, referring to her daughter and son-in-law’s Linprin butchery, which I remember for dry kudu biltong and a fine Cabanossi.
The Farm Butchery, 2 Donkin Street, Bedford. +27 (0)46 685 0978; 6 William Street, Adelaide. +27 (0)46 684 1018
Linprin Meats, 2 Bon Accord street, Adelaide. +27 (0)46 684 0206
SANDOR & MAURICE VAN DER MERWE – THE BILTONG KING – PORT ELIZABETH
Sandor van der Merwe left school in standard six to join his dad, Maurice aka The Biltong King in business. They do the festival circuit, selling from seven vehicles and touching base at their Port Elizabeth factory in between. Maurice tells me this life is not for sissies. ‘Sissies’ is not a word I would use to describe either of them. Biltong King sells fatty beef, lean beef, game, chilli sticks, bacon (like streaky rashers but dried) and moerby, a jumble of the above. Maurice says he makes his biltong in the boeremanier [farmer’s method] that is with fans but no heaters, which in his opinion ‘roasts’ the meat before it dries leaving a ‘cooked’ flavour. When I ask about the bad press game biltong has received, Maurice tells me, ‘Zebra is not a new story. People have been using it for years!’ Not him, though, and he leaves to unearth a sign offering a R10,000 reward for anyone proving otherwise.
DEREK CARSTENS – TASTE OF THE KAROO – BANKFONTEIN FARM
Derek is a gentleman farmer with marketing know-how and a love of antelope. He lifts a bronze bushbuck statuette to make way for our tray of tea and on entering his office I sidestep some bubble-wrapped horns and a stuffed nyala – the remains of a collection donated to Iziko Museums South Africa by his friend, Peter Flack, who sold him the farm . ‘You should have seen this place,’ says Derek, ‘it was like the Smithsonian Institute!’ Derek supplies fresh venison cuts to Cape Town’s fine-dining palaces and turns it into biltong and droëwors under the label Taste of the Karoo. His angle is: the less obvious buck taste good, too. ‘Kudu is a mooi bok [pretty buck],’ he says, making twirly shapes above his Springbok rugby beanie. ‘Springbok is sexy, it’s our national symbol, but black wildebeest loin… oooh, that’s good.’ The takbok [fallow deer] fillet he cooks for dinner certainly has me convinced. His secret weapon, Derek tells me, is a dangerously sharp Italian ‘Derinder’ for eliminating sinews.
Taste of the Karoo, shop 10A, The Woodmill, Vredenburg Road, Stellenbosch. +27 (0)21 886 5612
RAYMOND MEYER – KLEIN MERINO BUTCHERY – BEAUFORT WEST
As Raymond Meyer pulls open a cooler full of Kudu hanging ‘jacket on’ (heads off, hides intact), he turns to me and says, ‘So you know we don’t buy donkey…’ Just a few steps away five employees break down 25 Springbok by hand. Raymond has been in the game for 13 years and moves four to six tons of biltong a month from his Beaufort West factory. His success is his consistency, and a winning recipe using a bespoke Freddie Hirsch spice mix and he shows me his operation without hesitation. Racks of biltong tower above us, hanging from hooks colour-coded according to meat type and drying with the aid of fans. ‘Everything in this place,’ he says, ‘I’ll eat it, my girls will eat it, my wife will eat it. We don’t throw in any nonsense.’
Klein Merino Butchery, 13 Church Street, Beaufort West. +27 (0)23 415 1134
FRIK CRAFFORD – BILTONG MAKER OF THE YEAR 2012 – WORCESTER
Standing at the entrance to Frik Crafford’s home your eyes fall on the two trophies he won in 2012; the Worcester Masters Golf Championship and Stellenbosch Hills Biltong Maker of the Year – that was a good year for Frikkie. Frik became a hobby biltong maker nine years ago when transferred from Rustenberg to the Western Cape. Shocked at the price of biltong, he decided to make his own. He buys beef topside from Spar, uses Freddie Hirsch spice (Hunters Biltong Seasoning and FH Original Biltong) and a biltongkas [biltong box] made by his brother. This consists of a glass-fronted wooden cupboard with two computer fans inserted in the top and a lightbulb in the bottom. He dries it in the kas for five days – his wife prefers seven. ‘At the end of the day I was surprised to win,’ says this Worcester policeman, ‘maybe that batch had just the right amount of Worcestershire sauce!’
Photographs by Brandon de Kock