Rustic Jerky: Superfood for Carnivores

A locally produced artisan beef jerky enters the CZ health food scene

The origins of smoking and drying meats go back into the deep past of our ancestors. For the first hunter gatherer tribes, it was an absolute necessity to preserve the “hunt” and to make the food last as long as possible. As our distant relatives expanded across the globe, they brought the knowledge of preserving all types of meats with them. Thanks to them, we can enjoy these processes today.

Over the years, overly-salted, chemically-processed jerky varieties became more aligned with gas-station junk food than with the food of the first hunter gatherer tribes. However, beef jerky in its natural form has reemerged in recent years thanks to the popularity of the Paleo Diet (a diet based on foods presumed to have been eaten by the first humans) and an increased interest in healthy eating. “People are beginning to realize that what you put into your body really does have a significant effect on your health and well being,” says Rustic Jerky product developer Mark Daly.

Slogans like “you are what you eat” and “eat clean,” plus a widespread interest in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, have brought a schismatic shift to snack food options in the Czech food industry during the past five years. According to a Euromonitor report, the health food and wellness sector in the Czech Republic grew exponentially in 2014, with superfoods penetrating deeper into the Czech market. An influx of health food shops, raw food cafes and organic products on the Czech market have extended consumers' options for healthy eating.

For the Czech consumer, beef jerky (sušené maso in Czech) is still a novelty item, previously imported from the US or the UK. Yet its presence in the nation's health food industry is changing. Having a good quality, reliable energy source is essential for outdoor activities like climbing, cycling and hiking, all popular in the Czech sports scene. “All over the world, people are choosing to live a healthier lifestyle, and we're providing a means for them to do that. We're creating a superfood which is a meat-based product,” Mark says.

Rustic Jerky was started in Prague by two foreigners, Mark Daly and Phillip Press, and a third Czech business associate, Operations Director Anna Vaňková. The company makes jerky from start to finish the traditional way – chemical-free, no preservatives, no additives – using all-natural ingredients like honey, lime, spicy-chili peppers and fresh spices.

The idea for producing jerky from scratch was Mark's original brainchild. After working for an American company based in Prague, Mark enjoyed tasting the jerky that business colleagues brought from the US when they visited. At that time there was no jerky on the Czech market, so he started making it himself. Positive feedback from friends led him to further develop the idea. When asked about his inspiration, Mark says, “We're not reinventing the wheel. This is one of the first ways that humans were saving meat for transportation as we expanded across the world. We're just bringing things back to the basics.”

For their jerky, the company uses prime cuts of beef that have virtually zero fat. Because fat doesn't dehydrate, the cuts of meat must be lean. From the moment of their initial idea two years ago, the trio went through trials on more than 30 variations of flavors and textures before they got their three final product flavors bang-on – Honey BBQ, Habanero & Lime and Smokin' Ghost.

They haven't cut any corners with quality. “Using all-natural, fresh ingredients, you can create some amazing flavors. You don't need chemical enhancers. It's all about the types of spices that go into the products,” Mark says. The company believes that with an emerging Czech middle class, people aren't afraid to pay for quality, especially if they can taste the difference in the product.

During their trial process, they experimented with different sources until they found the very best Habanero peppers. They know the farmers who grow their chili peppers, and the farmers who produce their beef, down to tracing the meat back to an individual breed of cow if they need to. In order to keep checks on the process, they decided to keep the entire production process in house. Everything is Czech-sourced except for a few farm products which aren't grown locally.

While 10 years ago, there was no market for hot and spicy foods in the traditionally bland Czech cuisine, due to an influx of foreigners in Prague and the new generation of Czechs traveling around the world, the demand for hot and spicy food has grown. “We realized that we could give customers exactly what they want and the flavors that they learned to love on their travels,” Mark says. For customers who like the heat, Rustic Jerky offers two intensities – a medium-heat jerky using Habanero peppers combined with zesty lime and ginger and the spiciest jerky, Smokin' Ghost, which uses smoked Bhut Jolokia or “Ghost pepper,” a pepper that tests the limits of fiery, even for self-proclaimed “chili heads.”

The three flavors are sold in individually-sized, resealable 50g bags. With 25g of protein and only 143 calories per bag, Rustic Jerky is ideal for tucking into a back pack, a school bag or a briefcase for on-the-go energy. With a shelf-life of six months, you don't have to be afraid that the product, unlike some other organic options, won't last the length of a month long camping trip, but you can be sure of its fresh ingredients and top quality. “We don't want a product that lasts years and years. We want people to eat our product,” Mark says.

“Phil and I both have children growing up here, and we want them to experience the best-quality food. If we can make one step in that direction for them, then I think we’re on the right path.”

Whether you’re fishing by the river, sitting at your desk or taking an all-day hike with your family, a bag of Rustic Jerky is a tasty, healthy and guilt-free treat. Now that production has started, expect to see the product available for online sale on Rustic Jerky's website. Keep your eyes open for Rustic Jerky in local health shops, fitness stores and markets in the coming weeks. 

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