Tuesday, February 21, 2012


A Brief History of Ostrich - Biltong

Ostriches have been highly sort after for their feathers, their hides and their meat since Roman times. Unlike chickens you can even use them for pulling carts and racing, which perhaps makes them one of the most truly versatile fowl known to man. Native to Africa the birds were particularly popular in the nineteenth century in the fashion industry, with their feathers being used to adorn all-manner of millinery and clothing. South African Ostriches became so popular as a design feature for the fashionistas of the day that the populations began to decline radically during the 19th century, until with a typically South African spirit of enterprise, and sheer guts, the locals decided to start farming Ostriches commercially. Around this period farmers also spotted their potential as the main ingredient in the nation's favourite snack, biltong.

The trend for fluffy hats lasted a long time, but sadly began to decline shortly after the First World War, leaving a number of farms with large flocks of these birds with attitude on their hands. Unperturbed, the South African farmers found new markets for their unusual produce. It would be hard to describe the birds themselves as 'beautiful' but they certainly have plenty of meat on them. Ostrich meat is also incredibly healthy, low in fat and an excellent source of proteins versus other red meats. Commercial farming for meat has never looked back, and as ostriches are incredibly adaptable, Ostrich farms have sprung up worldwide, even in unexpected places such as Lincolnshire in the UK.
Back in South Africa Ostrich meat has gained rapid popularity as a healthier alternative to beef. Most game is less fatty than beef and other red meats and despite the slowdown in demand for the birds' feathers farmers adapted quickly to produce 'Biltong'. Biltong is a basically an air dried meat, which is pretty much a national dish in South Africa. The earliest European settlers were no stranger to dried and cured meats - it being the only way to get meat to last the long journey from Europe to the furthest reaches of Africa. On arrival in those pre-refrigeration days, biltong proved an ideal way to preserve meat, which was in abundance in the wild. In some respects, South Africa was built on the stuff!
Many cultures can be closely identified with their cuisines. Ostrich meat biltong is not only delicious and healthy, but says something about the very origins and tenacity of modern day South Africa. A mix of European traditions and African scary birds, with some tasteful hats thrown in along the way, ostrich biltong is a unique but very tasty and typically enterprising sample of South African culture.
Biltong is made in the UK to traditional South African recipes. The range includes beef, game and ostrich biltong. This cured meat is considered to be a healthy snack option and its versatility means it can be added to many recipes for a difference.

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