In praise of: Alpine biltong

Categories: Product stories

Gently spiced, air-dried silverside of beef: made in the Alps, sold by Exquisite Deli

Words: Mark Riddaway

Years ago, I lived with a man who owned one pair of shoes—suede desert boots bought for a fiver at Coventry market—which he wore until they fell apart. At which point he pulled off the soles, hacked the grimy, sweat-hardened uppers into pieces, placed them between two slices of bread topped with salad and a smear of English mustard, then wandered off to offer a “spare beef sandwich” to our third housemate, who was quietly watching The Bill.

Diligently, and with no little effort, he chewed his way through half a sarnie. “Beef’s a bit tough,” he said, casually. And my bladder just about gave out.

I was reminded of this when I was in South Africa for a couple of days and tried biltong for the first time. I was excited to try something so authentic, so vital to the local food culture. “Richard’s shoes,” I thought as I wore down my molars trying to swallow it.

A Tyrolean Londoner
The product that made me rethink biltong wasn’t parched in the dry winds of the Highveld; it was made in the Alps and sold by Thea of Exquisite Deli, a Tyrolean Londoner with no links to South Africa but an acute feel for great charcuterie. It’s delicious: silverside of beef, marinated in coriander seeds, pepper, salt and vinegar, then dried in the mountain air for about a month. It’s firm, but melts in the mouth. Spicy, but not overwhelming. Now I know what biltong can be, the next time I’m in South Africa, I’ll know what to look for.

I love that about London’s food culture: that where you’re from matters much less than what you know and love. A Tyrolean can make beautiful biltong, just as a South African can make exceptional schnitzel. Only a proper lunatic, though, can make a Coventry suede sandwich.