The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space



When we visited The Carter Street butchers in Fordham last weekend there were long slim peppered beef sausages hanging in the window. Beyond these was a rack where some dark dried meat was hanging.

“There are fifty Southern Africans living in the village. Eventually I had to try my hand at making Biltong,” the butcher confided as he cut us a bit of peppered beef sausage to sample. The beef sausage was very good and we bought one.
“Shall we buy some Biltong too?”
“Not today.” Danny was firm.

By the time I returned to collect a pork belly there was one key priority. I had to taste the Biltong, it had played on my mind all weekend. Never having tasted this delicacy, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As the butcher sliced a sample, I discovered that the meat is only dry on the outside. I took a tentative bite.

It was wonderful. All that a lover of dried, cured meat could want and so much more. So I bought a small piece and rushed home to introduce Danny to this exceptional treat.

We discovered that The Fordham Butcher’s Biltong is extremely moreish. The small slices slipped down so well as we chatted. They were tasty for breakfast the next morning and as an appetiser as I made the sandwiches for lunch. I took a few slices to work to ease me through the four o’clock watershed when energy is low. We have feasted and still have some left – in a plain brown wrapper in the fridge.

The butcher buys his Biltong spice mix from South Africa. I couldn’t resist venturing onto the Internet to check out recipes and curing methods. If you live in southern Africa you can hang your Biltong in a tree. In the northern hemisphere you can get fancy using fans and wire mesh cages (where did I put that meat safe?).

At it’s most basic level you can produce Biltong in a large cardboard box with a 60 watt light bulb as a heat source. This seems like a great site for recipes and curing information.

Salami production chez Cottage Smallholder ceased during the summer months as the temperature went well above those for safe initial air drying. Biltong is different. It needs warm air.

I couldn’t wait to photograph the Biltong this evening and hoover up those three slim slices. Danny likes it but finds it a bit too salty. For me, it’s the start of a love affair that will have me returning to that shop in Fordham regularly until I can make my own.

Watch this space

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  1. Hi, making biltong is easy. Just buy the ready made spices from a South African Shop in the UK.
    Cut of all the fat and drag it through vingar before coating it with the spices, in the fridge and every 30 minutes turn over, 5 times, spray with a 50/50 mixture of water/vinegar and hanh to dry. I have a small 240V computer fan in the top of my smoke oven to expel moisture.
    I prefer Safari mix ready made spices. Smoke for a few hours is you feel so inclined but this not neccesary.
    Jan. Brisbane.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Jan

      I’m going to try this as I adore biltong. Thanks for the advice 🙂

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sarah

    At the moment I haven’t had time to try out the recipe that I linked to but I’m keen to give it a go asap.

    Hi Bell

    As I said above, haven’t had time to try out the recipe let alone develop my own spices!

    If I was you I’d try the recipe and then adjust to taste.

  3. A few questions because I’m about to have a go at this:

    How long do you soak the meat in vinegar first?
    Do you rinse it before rubbing on the spices?
    What changes would you suggest to the original spice recipe?
    and anything else you can think of, please!
    – I have storage heaters with handy shelves above them, and as well as drying all the herbs I can get my hands on, I am really looking forward to drying some biltong! Just got to go and invent a drying box now…

  4. Sarah from Essex

    Oh your article reminds me of our first time to South Africa to visit my Cousin and his family six years ago. It is such a delicious thing. Cant wait for your recipe!

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sara,

    I wonder what your parents would think of this biltong and how it compares with the “real thing” in SA. I think the Fordham Biltong is not as tough as the original and I certainly would not waste it on a baby! We love it.

    Hi Diane,

    It is likely that everybody has a different level of salt tolerance/preference. But more salt means it remains preserved for longer. We will try it with less salt, just like our home cured smoked bacon because neither will last for more than two or thre days in our house.

    Hi Veronica,

    Danny is slowly being converted to girly breads now (and even quiche, disguised as tart) but it is a struggle. I love finding new approaches to recipes and trying variations. Once you start on that road, tweaking becomes compulsive.

    Hi Allotment Blogger,

    Looking forward to reading your recipe for home made parsnip biltong (low salt)! 🙂

    Hi wrm,

    Great to see a local on here giving advice. Thank you very much for dropping by. We will change our system the next time we see a hyena nosing about 60km north of London. Great tip about hanging it at the back of the fridge. Simple but brilliant.

  6. Heh. If you hang your biltong in a tree in Africa the hyenas will eat well.

    Up north, where the air is dry, you can hang biltong anywhere. Down here in Cape Town, where the air is not so dry, it’ll go all green and yucky. Behind the fridge works well though, just like it does in London 🙂

  7. Allotment blogger

    Oh how very interesting … I’ve been wondering about how to make this at home – I shall await your advice on a recipe. Like Danny I find it a little too salty most of the time and would love to be able to make a slightly less sodium-rich version.

  8. I love your reaction to a newly discovered treat: “Hmm, this is lovely, how can I make it myself?” 🙂

    PS I didn’t comment the other day as I had been away and was just catching up, but I was laughing out loud at Danny’s “girly bread” definition!

  9. Diane Epps

    I have had a go at making biltong but found that it was rather too salty. Having read your post I think it is something I will have to have another go at and see if I can’t get it right this time.

  10. Hello there!

    My parents would love to read this post – they used to live in South Africa and biltong was one of their loves… my sister and I were given the dried through biltong to teeth on!

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