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Built on Biltong

Calum Stenning

Petrol station food. It’s the worst.

We’ve all been there, on a long drive with nothing but petrol stations and 7/11’s between you and your destination. Then, you need a snack. You want a healthy snack, because roadtrippin’ is no excuse for poor dietary choices. But having assessed the shelves, the best option appears to be a teeny tiny bag of jerky, soaked in sugary marinade that makes you question whether or not you might have been better off with that three-pack of Krispy-Kremes.

With a bit of planning, there’s a better option for this. Biltong, the more cultured, more sophisticated older brother of beef jerky. If jerky is a highway 7/11, Biltong is the local farmers market.

This snacking conundrum is the very issue that Canberra company, Barbell Biltong, sought to solve. Four enterprising young chaps – Luke and Rory Rathbone, Matt Laing and Tom Hutchison – followed their interests in health, fitness and the outdoors into the kitchen, where they are producing the healthiest biltong (speculative, but entirely plausible) in the world.

The founders of Barbell Biltong

The founders of Barbell Biltong

Siblings Luke and Rory grew up in South Africa, the homeland of biltong and this provided some of their inspiration.

“We were going on camping trips at the time,” explains Luke, “taking cans of fish and that sort of thing – Rory started experimenting with biltong, and we realised the value of it as a healthy alternative to other snacks that often are quite sugary and artificial. Biltong is super convenient, doesn’t require refrigeration, and is healthy.”

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While the Barbell team came to biltong through training, they stress that they don’t see it as a snack exclusively for fitness fiends. Biltong can easily replace a bag of chips, saladas with vegemite or snack bars in your kid’s lunchbox.

“I eat it instead of popcorn at the movies,” Luke confesses.

The healthiness of their product is hard to overestimate. Barbell Biltong has a total of seven ingredients – one of which, obviously, is the meat. The chaps take their involvement in the industry seriously and source their meat ethically – it’s all grass-fed and organic, and farmed in a way that is not just healthy for the animals, but healthy for the land, too.

It may not be the cheapest route for them to take, but they believe that ensuring sustainability is the responsible thing to do.

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“We didn’t realise just how important ‘organic’ was until we looked into it,” explains Matt. “The cattle are grazed using ‘rotational grazing’, so once one area is sufficiently grazed, they move on to a new area.”

“Even products that are called ‘grass-fed’ can be consistently grazed on the same patch, which depletes the land and leads to the use of chemicals and fertilisers to keep the land viable.”

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Barbell Biltong, impressively, isn’t just a part-time gig. All four of the co-founders work full time at the business – a feat any small business owner will tell you is a big deal.

You can find the chaps and your love for biltong at the Capital Region Farmers Markets and the Old Bus Depot Markets every week, at a number of stockists, and on their website.

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Credit: Matt Musgrave

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Calum Stenning

Calum Stenning is Her Canberra’s newest and most male (read: only) intern. Three years spent living overseas has given him a renewed appreciation for Canberra life. Every day starts with coffee and the Sydney Morning Herald crossword at a favourite coffee haunt, as he is wary of the perils of dementia, and thinks crosswords are a viable safeguard. If he lives to a dementia-appropriate age (evidence says he won’t), he’ll let us know. More about the Author

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