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Why don't we make our own beef jerky? I don't mean you and I, although it is almost as easy to make jerky at home as sundried tomatoes or other dried foods. But why can't we buy locally made jerky the way we buy Quebec honey, maple syrup or other foods?

At its most basic, jerky is dried and flavoured meat. Like smoked salmon or dried chilis, jerk cooking preserves food.

Canada's Food Inspection Agency says jerky is "considered a fully dry shelf-stable product." That's another way of saying it is safe. The Agency requires that commercially sold jerky must be dried for over at hour at a temperature of at 70°C followed by a second drying of several hours at a lower temperature. This reduces the amount of water and kills any pathogens.

Beef is the most common meat used although bison, turkey and even salmon jerkies are common. The practice came from Indians who cut long strips of game and dried the meat in the sun. Other countries make similar products, such as the Swiss and Italian air dried meats; but these are paper thin and unseasoned.

Jerky, however, is made from thicker strips of meat. It is usually marinated and smoke is added to the flavour. It can be very spicy or sweet. Unfortunately, it is usually available as a highly seasoned tough piece of meat with the consistency of freeze-dried cardboard. My theory is that the jerky sold at gas bars and depanneurs was really created for truckers on long haul routes desperately trying to give up chewing tobacco.

There is great beef jerky tantalizingly close to Montreal. St. Alban's and Swanton Vermont have several small jerky companies. One of the best is M&J Jerky, which takes long, lean strips of beef and marinates them in maple syrup and soy sauce with a little liquid smoke. The Maple and Mild varieties are just. While the pepper-packed version called "Hurt Me Bad" will stay in its vacuum-packed pouch, thank you very much. Unfortunately, small jerky producers like M&J, Rosie's and others in Vermont don't sell their products north of the border.

Then there is Stemmler's "award winning" beef jerky. It is a delicious smoked and dried beef snack made in Heidelberg Ontario. It is rarely sold east of Cornwall and the company has no plans to bring it to Montreal. Pity.

We do get Canadian Rockies Bulkokee beef jerky. This is made in British Columbia for a Korean clientele. The Bulkokee gives it away. The word means Korean bar-b-qued meats. However this jerky is close to traditional jerky. The beef is marinated with soy sauce, sesame seeds and a little dehydrated apple. The result is sweet without being cloying, and chewy but not tough. Amore, a small Korean gift shop at 6159 Sherbrooke Street West (phone 514-487-5104), sells Canadian Rockies jerky in regular and spicy varieties.

While Quebec doesn't seem to produce ordinary jerky, we do have gourmet varieties that will never see service stations' snack counters such as Palme d'Or's magret de canard. This is a jerky made from thin slices of duck breast seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder. They are delicious in pastas or on salads. Another locally made product is Atlantic salmon jerky. The fish is cut into thin strips and flavoured with sugar and wood smoke. Both of these are available in gourmet food shops.

They'll keep me happy until locally made beef jerky comes along.

© Barry Lazar 2002

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