South Africans flourish under adversity. The saying ‘n boer maak ‘n plan did not occur without good reason; when times get tough, South Africans get baking, cooking, and curing. Jacques Stemmet the creator of Vabond handcrafted cured meats is one such dude, he knows exactly how to harness hard times and turn it into a surprisingly fine thing – cured meat to be exact.
To this day, there are many towns and cities in sunny SA that were founded on the proceeds of beskuit (rusks), jam and biltong.
In all likelihood, South Africans’ preference for preserving food in this way stem from the many journeys undertaken by their tenacious forebears, who often travelled far distances and didn’t have the luxury of keeping food cool along the way.
Under those kinds of conditions, you quickly learn to make hay while the sun shines and find ways to make your rations last. Cue the magic preservation ingredients of sugar, salt, and time.
VABOND handcrafted cured meats is the latest in a long line of adversity-inspired side hustles to come from a South African under pressure.
In this case, the pressure in question stemmed from the fact that the man behind the cured meat, Jacques Wilhelm Stemmet, could no longer count on the income from his career as location manager for international films produced in South Africa due to the lockdown regulations put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
With the borders shut, international talent couldn’t make their way to SA, and all the projects Jacques had in the pipeline were put on hold. Fortunately, Jacques is not a guy for wallowing, and he took this rather hefty kick in the proverbial nuts as a sign that it was time to turn his hobby of making cured meat into a fully-fledged side hustle.
The start of a long winding journey that led to the making of cured meat
“I’ve always enjoyed working with meat. Ever since our childhood hunting trips to the farm of a family friend near Cookhouse. It fascinated me that you could keep all this food from spoiling by simply adding salt – it was a curious kind of alchemy to a kid like me,” says Jacques.
“I could never get behind a practice like trophy hunting, but in our case we would honour each animal we took down by turning it into meat and biltong that would feed our family for a large part of the year.”
Eventually that curious kid grew up and started out on a career journey that was a quest for adventure from the start. It began with part-time wildlife tour guiding in high-school, and led him across the pond to America to snowboard and work as a chef to support this pretty expensive habit.
After this, he made his way to the British Isles, where he toured various countries pitching gigantic marquees and learned quite a bit about perseverance in the face of hardcore working conditions.
“Next, it was time to rustle up a few credentials, and I came home to the Klein Karoo, where I studied programming and sound engineering while earning my keep as a stage manager and sound engineer.
Then I struck it super lucky and got to live the dream as bassist for a rock ‘n roll band called the Great Apes. This once-in-a-lifetime rollercoaster experience came to a rip-roaring end prematurely, as most all-or-nothing social experiments are wont to do,” Jacques recounts.
“After sulking for a bit, I went back to the drawing board and discovered that the film industry offered everything I needed – high octane schedules, unpredictable working conditions, challenges at every turn and the opportunity to develop my skill almost daily.”
Jacques’ film work took him to the Philippines once a year, where he worked as part of the large, multi-national production crew behind the scenes of Expedition Robinson, the European version of the popular Survivor series. It was here, at a resort on the island of Caramoan, where he had his first taste of using his skill with cured meat to make it through a tough time.
“My friend Marne and I hosted a bit of a wild party in our cabana one night. It resulted in a fair amount of damage that the resort was inclined to have deducted from our wages before we headed home.
While this was sinking in, one of our Dutch crew-mates came around looking for biltong, and Marne and I saw the opportunity to make some cash,” says Jacques.
“We rustled up some water buffalo meat, built a curing box, cranked the A/C to a steady 16°C in the cabana and were quickly able to cover the damages with the proceeds of the biltong we were selling to the rest of the crew. Incidentally, it’s this type of shenanigans that inspired the VABOND brand name – it’s the Afrikaans version of ‘vagabond’, which refers to a slightly shifty wanderer with a yen for the carefree life.”
A year or so later, Jacques met and married a girl from the Swartland, Anna-Bet Stemmet, also known as the writer behind Skryfyster Copy & Content, and moved to Malmesbury, his mother Marlene’s original home town.
Setting up Vabond – cured meat in the making
One of Anna-Bet’s singular talents is the ability to give exceptional birthday gifts, so when she presented Jacques with an Eatsplorer voucher to attend a Richard Bosman curing course, the stage was set for big things to come.
Discover the interesting stories behind more of the world’s delectable artisanal products by meeting the makers behind these authentically local brands.
Fast-forward to March 2020, when the world as we knew came grinding to a crashing halt. With their second daughter on the way, and the film industry stopped dead in its tracks, Jacques realised it was time to up his charcuterie game and put a price on the chorizo, salami, pancetta and lonzino he had been playing around with in his spare time up until this point.
“We try to live as consciously as we can as a family,” says Jacques. “Although we aren’t vegetarian or vegan, we go out of our way to source our meat from ethical suppliers. So, when I decided to put my charcuterie up for sale, it was imperative that we find a source that would fit the bill.
This happened to be Oak Valley Wine Estate in Grabouw, where free-range pigs enjoy a diet rich in fallen acorns, and have plenty of space to forage freely in open paddocks.”
Not content to play by the tried-and-tested flavour rules, Jacques also decided to forgo the stock-standard spices and recipes associated with cured meats, and instead focus on local flavours that tap into the South African
“Although I love coriander seed as much as the next South African, I decided it was time to showcase some other ZA-inspired flavours. I started out by making a chorizo flavoured with my father-in-law Zakkie’s Bester Family Wines Barbera, which has a distinct Swartland flavour even though it happens to be an Italian varietal.
This opened the scope for experimentation with other lekker local flavours, such as AA Badenhorst Caperitif, rooibos tea and brandy, and even Cape Snowbush.”
How to get your hands on the good stuff
At the moment, the VABOND team is actively working on securing convenient distribution channels to bring their cured meats to the good people of SA. The best way to get your hands on some is to get in touch via their WhatsApp business line on 064 526 2304 to see a price list and place your order for delivery straight to your door.
The VABOND website is currently curing, but their Facebook page is regularly updated with the types of charcuterie available, along with special offers and package deals.
Photography: Jenni Elizabeth