Let's set the record straight: "Biltong is different from beef jerky," said Larry Burnett, known locally as The Biltong Guy and perhaps the only Orange County resident to commercially produce the South African delight. It's air-dried, as opposed to cooked in ovens, making for an easier product to chew on.
Only problem? Most Americans have no idea what biltong is, and Burnett is a salesman at heart. After getting feedback from taste testers who told him his product "wasn't stressful on the jaw. And people repeatedly commented that it reminded them of dried beef steak," he decided to market his biltong as just that--Table Mountain Dried Beef Steak.
The South African native originally made his own biltong for personal use because he "couldn't find a good quality product," but for the past six years, he has set up shop in a USDA-approved factory in Monrovia, which he manages from Irvine. Burnett makes his biltong from Choice beef, the second-highest grade inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To prepare the beef for curing, the outside layer is dennuded, exposing its meaty texture, then sliced to manageable slabs. He marinates them for just less than 30 minutes in a vinegar solution featuring imported South African spices, the most notable being coriander. After the curing process, the beef slabs are brought to a temperature-controlled room and laid out on drying racks for three to seven days, depending on weather conditions. Once dried, they're cut down to bite-sized pieces and packaged.
Biltong's combination of 96 percent fat-free premium meat and natural drying process contribute to its tenderness. Packaged with an oxygen absorber, this allows for the freshest possible product until opened. At 60 calories per ounce, folks looking for a high-protein snack can chew on this, guilt-free. Common ways to incorporate biltong into meals are as a salad topping or ground up into sandwiches, but South Africans traditionally use it in other, unorthodox ways. "Mothers give little pieces to their babies when they are teething," Burnett says. "It's not too hard and dissolves easily." How does Larry prefer dried beef steak? Straight from the package. "It's the best bar food," he says.
Traditionally, there is only one flavor of biltong--nothing other than how it's traditionally seasoned and marinated, as explained above. To suit the tastes of the American market, the Biltong Guy created four--original, hot, teriyaki and peppered. Hot incorporates cayenne seasoning, and the heat factor is about a five out of 10.
The previous package design "appealed to a more ethnic group," according to Burnett, which means only OC's sizable South African community knew what biltong was. Shoppers unfamiliar with biltong were confused by the South African motifs--upbeat packaging, silhouettes of savannahs--so Burnett decided to give his product an almost-minimalist look. The trick worked: "The new one appealed to the U.S. population," he says, and sales have taken off. I'm sure Charlize Theron would approve.
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Table Mountain Dried Beef Steak can be found locally in a number of locations: Wholesome Choice, Hi-Time Wine Cellar, Super Irvine, A Market in Newport Beach, Pacific Park Market in Aliso Viejo, and some convenience stores and gas stations. Packaging varies from 1.8 to 8 ounces, but for specific flavors and quantities, it's best to call direct. Larry's happy to hear from you.
Biltong (a.k.a. Table Mountain Dried Beef Steak) is sold online at www.800biltong.com or by calling 1-800-BILTONG.