Interview: Rupert Freestone, Owner and Managing Director of Cornish Biltong Co.
We caught up with Rupert to chat about all things Cornish, beefy and biltong-y
The Cornish Biltong Co. has come a long way in four short years. Founded in 2016 by health and fitness enthusiast Rupert Freestone – a former pro rugby player who was first introduced to the cured meat snack by his South African teammates while playing for Bristol – the company has gone from strength to strength, perfecting its biltong recipes and earning itself legions of protein-loving fans.
We caught up with Rupert to learn more about the company's journey, the difference between biltong and jerky, and the care and attention that goes into producing each delicious batch.
Where did the idea for starting The Cornish Biltong Co. come from?
I’ve always been passionate about food, health and fitness. With meat snacks becoming more and more common in supermarkets, one of my best mates and I felt it would be an interesting project to start. So, with a makeshift dryer, some beef from our local butcher and a basic spice mix, we began trialling biltong. Before long, we’d created something amazing... and so Cornish Biltong Co. was born.
Where did you learn to make biltong?
It’s actually incredibly easy. A little bit of research soon set us on the right track. But putting our own twist on production, as well as using the highest quality ingredients, is what sets our biltong apart from the rest. Sadly I can’t divulge too many of our secrets, though...
Did you come up with any cool new ways of curing, spicing or processing biltong?
We’ve trialled a bunch of different methods – such as using different marinating and curing times for optimal flavour and tenderness, different vinegars to cure the beef in, and different quantities of spices for marinating. It probably took us the best part of two years to work out the optimal process, but we think we’ve got it as close to perfect as possible now.
What's the most daunting thing about starting a new foodie business?
Definitely the amount of time and money that needs to go into food production. We massively underestimated how much money it would cost it get our facility up to scratch in terms of meeting environmental health standards. But by re-investing all of our profits over the first couple of years, we managed to scale slowly, without the need for masses of external investment.
What do you love most about what you do?
I really enjoy the events we do as a company, such as food shows and festivals. I love meeting new people and engaging with customers while receiving loads of great feedback about our product. I also love running my own business. While there are some occasional headache-inducing problems we encounter, it’s great to have the freedom to write your own rules. This is something I wasn’t able to do with my previous job; I felt like I had a million ideas on how to improve that business, but they’d never be heard.
What makes Cornish Biltong unique?
Without question, it’s the quality of the beef we use. All of ours is sourced locally from our butcher’s in Launceston, and you can really tell. The tenderness of the biltong and the beefy flavour is testament to that. All too often, biltong becomes dry, tough and chewy. Some people say that’s how its supposed to be, but ultimately this comes down to using cheap ingredients – something we’ll never allow to happen.
What's your favourite kind of biltong?
I actually love fatty biltong. We don’t produce fatty biltong as you end up getting a lot of waste – so from a commercial perspective, it’s not really viable. By using leaner cuts of beef, not only do you minimise waste, but you also produce a more healthy product. It’s also probably not everyone’s cup of tea, so the feedback we’d get wouldn’t be as positive, particularly with new customers or people who’ve never tried biltong before. But it’s certainly something I like to indulge in from time to time.
What are the health benefits of biltong?
It’s super high in protein. This is because it takes 100g of beef to produce 50g of biltong. So, for every 50g of biltong you eat, you’re getting double the protein. It's also low in sugar – unlike jerky – and it's packed with nutrients like vitamin D, magnesium, iron, and B vitamins, which have a heap of benefits, such as promoting healthy cell function.
What's your favourite recipe using biltong?
I like to keep it pretty simple; beer and biltong is a huge favourite of mine. But pizzas are awesome to add biltong to. The old classic Margherita or pepperoni with some strips of biltong chucked on works really well, as the biltong crisps up really nicely and adds an extra dimension of flavour. But if you wanted to do something a bit more ‘day to day’, topping your scrambled eggs with some biltong is always a winner – and it seasons the eggs really nicely in the process.
What can we look forward to in the future from Cornish Biltong?
We’ve deliberately tried to keep our product range minimal as we are firm believers in doing the basics really well as opposed to putting out heaps of flavours and brand extensions that just don’t quite work – but we do have a new flavour in development, which we’ve had lots of our customers ask for. I won’t let the cat out of the bag just yet, but it’s very close to being released... so watch this space.
Favourite Cornish food:
Gotta be the pasty. (I won’t eat them unless they are from my favourite bakery in Cornwall though – they are next level.)
Aside from biltong? I’m a sucker for a proper scotch egg (preferably still warm, with a soft yolk inside).
You cannot beat a good steak and chips, but over the past year or so I’ve been trying hard to find the perfect burger (something I am still yet to achieve, but I’ll keep trying). I love a good burger.
Best place you've ever eaten:
The butcher we source our beef from supplies some of the top London restaurants, and while living in London last year I was a regular at Blacklock in Soho. Several times I ate there, I told my girlfriend, ‘that was the best meal I’ve ever had’. It usually consisted of an 800g porterhouse, beef dripping chips, blue cheese dip, and grilled gem lettuce with an anchovy garnish. 10/10.
Which country's food is the best?
Greece, without question. I’ve been on a few holidays to Greece – and when visiting Halkidiki a couple of years ago, I ordered sea bass one day. Out came a whole grilled sea bass – the size of my leg – cooked in lemon and oil, and well seasoned. It was absolutely awesome with nothing more than a side of grilled potatoes and some tzatziki.
Alcoholic – Doom Bar. Non alcoholic – Fanta Zero (pink grapefruit flavour).
Favourite comfort/hangover food:
Ultimate guilty pleasure food:
Burger and chips. I feel embarrassed to say it, but a really good burger and chips is a work of art.
Food you can't stand:
My personal mantra is ‘anything can be delicious if it’s done well’, but if I had to avoid one food for the rest of my life it would be jacket potato. They are only nice if the topping is good.
I do a really good slow cooked Moroccan lamb, with a rich, garlicky baba ganoush and tabbouleh. Delicious, if I do say so myself…