September 24 is Heritage Day and an important date on the South African calendar. This annual celebration of culture and diversity is also referred to as National Braai Day.
Braai is the Afrikaans word for barbecue, you see, and South Africans love their braais just as much as Australians love their barbecues. The concept is similar - cooking meat outdoors with tongs in one hand, a beer in the other - but a braai is always cooked on an open grill with wood or charcoal and never gas. It is often an all-day process and always an excuse to socialise.
Elsabe van der Merwe, owner of Newcastle Biltong Co at Mayfield, is on team braai.
"I think you get better flavours and tenderness when cooking on charcoal," she told Food & Wine.
"We South Africans typically serve it with mielie pap with tomato and onion sauce, potato bake and a mixed salad. Braai, biltong and rugby all complement one another nicely."
The van der Merwes moved to Australia from South Africa in 2012, settling in Maitland.
"We bought Ol Pete's Beef Jerky in 2017, a business that had been around for more than 20 years making beef jerky," she explained.
"When the opportunity came up to start Newcastle Biltong Co we jumped at the chance to expand - as South Africans we related more to biltong than jerky. Newcastle Biltong Co was established in 2018, and I took over the shop in 2019."
Jerky and biltong are dried meats with a long shelf life and are both low in fat and high in protein. Biltong is essentially a steak that is cured with vinegar, salt and simple spices for 24 hours before being dried and sliced. Jerky is marinated in all kinds of different flavours and dried immediately, but not cured.
Newcastle Biltong Co makes its own boerewors (sausages), biltong and dried sausages (droe wors) on site. It also stocks imported South African favourites like Fritos, Ghost Pops, Jellie Tots and Zoo Biscuits, as well as South African soft drinks, chips, rusks, spices and other condiments.
"Biltong and boerewors is in our blood as South Africans. In the school holidays my family always went to a farm where they worked their own meat, and I helped," she said.
"The secret is a good recipe and consistency."
Newcastle Biltong Co, 400 Maitland Rd, Mayfield. Fri, noon to 5pm; Sat, 9am to noon. Order at newcastlebiltongco.com.au
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