A wholly British take on a classic South African snack from Cannon & Cannon
According to South African folklore (and some questionable internet sources), biltong first came about when migrating African tribesmen, keen to get the most out of their valuable livestock, would drape the meat underneath their saddles to preserve it. In transit, the chafing would dry out and tenderise the meat, and the perspiration of the horse would ‘season’ it. Tasty.
Thankfully, nowadays it’s more likely to be air dried in kilns than on sweaty horseback—which is, thankfully, the way Cannon & Cannon’s suppliers at BigHorn Biltong make theirs.
Produced by Simon Kennedy, partner Carole and her daughter Abi in Worcestershire, both the method and ingredients are of the highest standard. “It’s made from pure long horn beef—a rare, native breed of cattle—which they get from a high welfare farm located just 17 miles from their door,” Sean Cannon explains.
The cows are free range, feeding on grass, hay and silage, in a stress-free environment. Once slaughtered, the beef is hung for 28 days, resulting in full-flavoured, succulent meat. Top and silver side cuts of beef are then marinated in brine with aromatics, before being put into a drying kiln to suck out any moisture—“it will lose about 40 per cent of its weight”—curing the beef and intensifying its rich, meaty flavour.
“The biltong is beautifully simple: there’s absolutely nothing in it other than beef, coriander, black pepper and rock salt,” Sean continues. “It’s all natural; there are no preservatives.” The stall sells both original and chilli biltong, which includes the addition of brown sugar, red chilli and cayenne pepper. “It’s pretty spicy! Very warming. But it is still a very pure expression of the beef”—which is, says Sean, what distinguishes it from more traditional biltong.
“Our Limpopo biltong is a more typical South African recipe. We call it party biltong! There’s much more going on. People really like comparing the two.” A relatively new addition to the stall, BigHorn biltong is proving just as popular: “But I would say it attracts a different audience. We have our core fan base for the Limpopo—usually South Africans who won’t have anything else!—whereas the BigHorn attracts perhaps the more classic Borough shopper. It’s much more about the provenance and quality of the beef.”
Naturally low in fat and high in protein, for Sean it is the perfect snack for any time of day. “It’s great with a cold beer, a good, full-bodied red wine—or even just as an afternoon snack to keep you going between meals. It’s beautiful all on its own.”