While there are minor variations between produces in different areas, in general, to make balkenbrij, pork offal (usually the pig’s head, trotters, trimmings, ribs, heart, liver and tongue) is boiled for about two hours in water flavored with onion, bay leaves and cloves. The meat is then deboned and minced. Pig’s blood is added to the broth in which the offal was boiled along with buckwheat, then the minced offal, while stirring constantly. When the blood has coagulated and darkened, and the spoon stands straight in the mixture, the balkenbrij is ready. It is then scooped into rectangular containers and left to cool for one day, after which it can be consumed. Balkenbrij is typically served cut into centimeter thick slices and baked in butter alongside baked apples and parsley. It can also be eaten with bread and syrup or bread and mustard, and typically at breakfast or as a snack in between lunch and dinner.
Balkenbrij is considered a poor farmer’s product, made from the offal of the pigs when all the "good" parts were already transformed into more precious cuts or sausages. The first documentation of this product dates to the end of the 19th century, but it is likely that it was already produced before then. Farmers used to slaughter their pigs in autumn and winter, so the balkenbrij could only be found from October to March. This seasonality has been maintained, and the remaining artisans do not produce balkenbrij from April until September. Balkenbrij allowed farmers to make use of the various less-desirable parts of the pork, to which flavor was added by mixing in locally grown buckwheat. The product is a variant on the more known blood sausage.
The name Balkenbrij refers to the brij (mush, slurry) of the balk or balch, meaning belly, or gebalchte, meaning in old Limburg dialect the remains of the belly of a slaughtered pig. The dialect denomination Kroeboet refers to blood sausages that broke during the production process, and out of which the meat was taken. This meat (also offal) was then mixed with buckwheat, cooked and poured in pots instead of in the natural casing, which was broken.
Balkenbrij can be found in the area called De Kempen, an region stretched out over the northeast of Belgium and the southeastern part of the Dutch region North Brabant. In Belgium, De Kempen encompasses a large part of the provinces Antwerp and Limburg. Limburg is the region where the balkenbrij is mostly produced. It can also be found in the German region of the Rhineland. However, the recipes differ between these regions, and the Balkenbrij of Limburg is the only one made with pig’s blood. Over the Dutch border and in Germany, pig’s blood is not used and other ingredients are added such as raisins, a mixture of spices or fried pieces of bacon. The Balkenbrij of De Kempen is also the only one using buckwheat, as this grain used to grow abundantly in this region. Most of the producers still use local-grown, stone-ground buckwheat because it’s from a superior quality and better adapted for the production of balkenbrij.
By 2015, there were fewer than two dozen producers still making balkenbrij for sale, though some farmers continued the tradition for their own personal consumption. There are various reasons as for why this traditional product is at risk of disappearing. There are other, industrial variants on the market – but these are made with plain pork meat and without blood, so are a completely different product. There is a certain risk that consumers confuse these two products. The Food Safety Agency in Europe would like to stop the use of fresh blood and force the use of powdered blood. This would obviously completely change the traditional recipe, the history and the final taste of the Belgian balkenbrij. Besides the blood, the Food Safety Agency is also threatening the stone-grinding practices of buckwheat, still done by a handful of farmers in Limburg. Without this type of buckwheat, the balkenbrij would fall apart and never become a solid "mush." Finally, younger generations are not very interested in this product. Young people today are less likely to consume offal and do not value the traditions and the taste of this product. Without a younger consumer public, there won’t be an economic incentive anymore in the near future to continue producing this labor and time-intensive product.