By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald
Ask just about any sportsmen if they like jerky, and the answer will most certainly be yes. Perhaps it’s because it keeps well in the field, is considered a dandy survival food or maybe it’s simply because it tastes good — well, some jerky tastes good.
I have a friend in the northern part of the state who makes jerky from venison. His version of jerky, if you allow yourself to call it that, tastes like a salt block and has the texture and consistency of shoe leather. It is almost inedible and the only spice I know that would make it taste any better would be a large dose of hunger. I cringe every time he hands me a plastic bag full of it and have contemplated many times its use as catfish bait.
On the other side of the spectrum, a friend of mine who lives in one of the breadbasket states that is blessed with a predictable and abundant migration of waterfowl, makes some of the best jerky I have ever eaten. His primary meat source for his jerky is goose breast and it is simply amazing. A couple times a year, I am blessed with delivery of his latest batch. I have tried to reproduce his recipe but each and every time I have failed miserably.
Several years back on a hunting trip in Africa, I was introduced to biltong. Biltong is similar to jerky with the main difference being how it is cured. Most of our jerky is dried in a dehydrator or oven set on a low temperature, but biltong is generally hung up to air dry for many, many days. Another primary difference is the use of vinegar as a curing agent and coriander spice to keep the flying insects off the meat. It is wildly popular, as is jerky in our country, and is made from everything from kudu to ostrich meat. Although I only sampled a few varieties, I found it to be simply delicious, but not worth booking another African safari for.
I have to admit, I am a little bit of a foodie and might even allow myself to be called a jerky snob. I like the way I make mine and prefer it over any store bought variety I have tasted. So when I reconnected with an old friend who told me he was embarking on a new journey in his professional career that included making beef jerky, my ears perked up. He is making small batches from premium whole muscle meat, utilizing a recipe that was started in West Virginia several decades ago, and producing it from a locally owned and operated business under the name of West Virginia Beef Jerky.
As a small business owner in West Virginia, I admire the gumption it takes to try to make a go of it, but the bottom line is it has to taste good. Buying locally is nifty and trendy, but no one wants to buy subpar goods, especially bad food, no matter how good their intentions are to help out locally. I am ashamed to admit I was doubtful.
So on a snowy afternoon, when the dreariness of a gray day can tend to creep in and a snack sounds good, I opened a package of his jerky. Upon taking the first bite, I realized I will no longer have to wait for my friend’s care package, travel to a far-off place or even make a mess in my kitchen to get great jerky anymore.
His will do just fine.
West Virginia Beef Jerky can be contacted via Facebook or by calling 304-252-4731.