Tafí del Valle ch’arki, made in the Tucumán region of northwestern Argentina, is a traditional beef jerky. It is generally prepared in March or April, before taking the animals to pasture in the mountains. The cow meat is filleted, covered in salt, and left in a container, so as to dry it out. Once dried, the meat is taken out and tied to cords with which it is hung to dry in the sun for one week. Afterwards, the meat is pressed to get rid of any remaining humidity and is then left to dry in the open air for another week. The product is conserved in paper sacks or in hermeneutically sealed containers. This dish is rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals like iron and zinc, and contains very little fat.
The tradition of drying out or dehydrating meat came about due to the need to improve conservation time in a period when refrigerators did not exist. The name ch’arki comes from the Quechua language and means “dry and thin”. When made with lamb meat the product is known as chalona. The verb chaquear stands for the way that foods are dried, including vegetables, fruits, and fish; in fact, the English “Jerked beef” and French “charcuteri” have the same etymology. This product can be made with any kind of meat, and pre-Columbian peoples mainly used llama meat and venison. Today in other parts of Latin America lamb meat is used, but in Tafí tradition holds that ch’arki is only made with beef.
The product’s historic production area is Tafí del Valle, which enjoys a cold mountain climate combined with good exposition to the sun. This method of conserving meat is tied to the culinary tradition of the indigenous Calchaquí people – which is about 30,000 strong – and more specifically to Quilmes, a village where ch’arki has historically been produced. The original recipe from the village, however, did not call for salt, as the meat was simply dried in the sun. As ch’arki is only produced for personal consumption, the exact quantities produced each year are unknown, and the producers are generally not the owners of the pastures in which the animals graze.
This tradition is at risk of disappearing because of changing methods of conserving meat. Furthermore, young people do not have the time to dedicate to this rather exacting preparation process.