The story of Cheshire biltong (with audio)
Meet the two Macclesfield men making biltong from beef reared in Cheshire. Emma Mayoh reports PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON
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Ian Mackintosh is used to having a lot on his plate. The 53-year-old used to work for the United Nations in trouble spots in Eastern Europe. But now he is frantically busy producing biltong made from Cheshire beef with friend Giles Pocklington.
‘I was in Bosnia during the conflict. There were still mortars going off and shootings,’ remembered Ian. ‘We were there to work in the field hospital doing a screening project because there hadn’t been any real medical care for such a long time.
‘It was a pretty desperate situation and you can only be in that kind of environment for so long before it starts to get to you.’
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Ian spent time after that running care homes, a business he still has. But when he and Giles, 39, were at a dinner party less than a year ago they decided to launch the Mafeking Biltong Company. They started with a kiln to dry their beef - made out of furniture from Giles’s lounge. Now, they have a professional kiln and make big batches of Captain Long’s British Beef Biltong in Ian’s kitchen.
They are already selling at farmers’ markets across the county, online and as well as at a handful of Cheshire pubs, including The Hollins in Macclesfield and The Yew Tree in Bunbury.
‘We can’t believe how well everything has gone,’ said Ian, whose wife Katina, grew up in Johannesburg. ‘When people first come to the stall you can tell by their faces that they’re not very sure. They take a piece and walk off but before long they’re walking back. People seem to love it.‘My children can’t get enough of it either. They’re constantly eating it and my son Reuben’s friends love it and they are always asking him to bring bags of it into school for them.’
Biltong is a cured meat which originates from the Dutch who settled in South Africa, where it is now part of the staple diet. All sorts of meats are used in that country to produce biltong including beef, game, springbok and kudu. But Ian and Giles chose the finest Cheshire beef reared and produced by Lower Peover farmer, Ken Webb.
The very lean strips of beef are marinated in spices for 24 hours and then dried in the specially built kiln for between three and five days. They make a range of flavours, including traditional, Moroccan spices and Chinese five spice, and they are constantly experimenting with new recipes, including the latest, Wasabi.
Ian and Giles named their biltong after Captain Long, a Boer War commander, to make people more aware of the British connections with the dried meat. They also want to promote the health benefits of the snack.
Giles, who works at Reaseheath College, explained: ‘Biltong has long been associated with the British but people don’t realise it because it is known as being South African. But during the Boer War the troops raided the enemy trenches to steal their ammunition and their biltong.
‘It used to give them lots of energy and they couldn’t get enough of it. It’s a good way of helping your muscles to recover and the end product is very lean. We’ve heard from sportsmen who eat it and love it and I ate some before I did the Macclesfield Triathlon and it worked for me.’
The pair are now hoping to be stocked in local brewery pubs, including Robinsons and Boddingtons, and have aspirations to be sold in places across the country. They are also looking at producing other delicacies including droewors, a spiced sausage that is also popular in South Africa.Giles said: ‘We have big ambitions but we’ve got to aim big. When you’ve got such great meat from Ken then it’s not difficult. We feel like we’ve come a long way in a short space of time and we just want to keep going.’
What is biltong? A cured meat which originates from the Dutch who settled in South Africa. Several types of meat, including beef, game and chicken can be used to produce it.
How is it made? One of the popular methods of producing biltong is to boil in a vinegar bath, rubbing with salts, spices, herbs and possible flavouring, before being hung up to dry over a long time period.
What does it taste like? Very meaty. It’s more substantial and thicker than jerky.
How do you cook it? You don’t. It usually comes pre-prepared and ready to eat.
Is it expensive? It’s more expensive than the average snack. Ian and Giles charge �2 for a 40g bag.
How can I try it? Ian and Giles sell their Cheshire biltong at several farmers’ markets in Cheshire and through their website at www.mafekingbiltong.co.uk.