ever evolving – Tavern Tasty Meats

For one north Norfolk butchers, the COVID pandemic saw them develop from being ‘just’ a butchery to a farm shop where you can buy everything you need. Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, Tavern Tasty Meats continues to diversify to support the community and they are looking forward to doing so this year more than ever. 

Tavern Tasty Meats is a family-run butchers, established in 1991 in Swafield, just north of North Walsham, by Claire Hudson with her husband, Andrew. “Much of our meat is sourced from our family farm in Smallburgh,” explains Claire. “From the word go, we were passionate about offering produce that was both fully traceable and of amazing quality. That has never changed, and we continue to be dedicated to the amazing produce that comes from this county.”

At the heart of Tavern Tasty’s ethics is a desire to produce quality meat from traditional breeds. “We have high standards of animal welfare and stockmanship,” continues Claire. “Slowly maturing animals have been extensively reared before they arrive in the shop to be prepared for you by the very best skilled butchers. Where our own farm can’t keep up with demands for traditional breed pork, we use a smallholder in West Beckham for Gloucester Old Spot Pork while our popular free-range chickens come from Sutton Hoo. We also get beef from Antingham, predominately Aberdeen Angus. We only work with farmers who have the same high standards that we do. We wouldn’t expect to serve anything other than the very best to our customers.”

Things all changed last year, however, when the pandemic came along. “It was crazy!” says Claire. “At that time, we offered meats and deli items such as pies, sausage rolls, and so on as well as selected items such as local granolas and oils. When COVID happened, we saw what was happening in the supermarkets, and how crazy people were going, and we sat back and looked at what we could do best here at Tavern Tasty to support our local community. The natural step for us was to
diversify and become more of a farm shop. Customers felt safe to come here – we are in a small village, with ample parking, and we limited the number of people in the shop at any one time; in fact, we still do, allowing just three people in at a time. People are now able to visit us, get all their essentials, and then go home again without having to go near a town or supermarket.

“As well as doing all of this, we upped our delivery service, now going all over Norfolk, to be sure that we could reach those who just didn’t feel safe to go out. I have grown up with the ethic of the butchers and bakers etc being at the heart of the community, and I knew that I wanted to ensure that Tavern Tasty Meats was just that during a crisis that many of us have never lived through – nor want to again!”

Part of this diversification began with selling fresh, seasonal farm fruit and vegetables, something that they did already but on a smaller scale. To this were added Dann’s ice creams, local cheeses, and a wide range of gins, whiskies, and wines from Norfolk. “We have such a wide selection, and people love that there is something for every taste,” says Claire. “We have Norfolk Gin, which is possibly our biggest seller, Bullards, Black Shuck, St Giles, Walnut Tree Gin, Pell & Co, plus whiskey from the English Whiskey Company, cider from Whin Hill Cider, and Winbirri wines, including their sparkling. We really do have something for every occasion – and they make great additions to hampers!”

The Tavern Tasty Meats team also upped their range of homemade deli items, such as their deep-filled pies and quiches, offering more variety. “We have brought in a ready to cook range as well,” explains Claire. “Many of these come in foil trays, so they can just be put in the oven when people get home from work. The stir fries are proving to be incredibly popular, especially with the younger generations who have families and not always time to cook. They can just throw the stir fry into a wok, add some noodles, and they have a delicious and easy dinner ready in minutes.”

Alongside that convenience remains a traditional service, where your order is carried to your car for you, and where each butcher can tell customers not only where the produce comes from and how it has been prepared, but how they can make the best out of their meat when they cook it at home. “I pride ourselves in offering a first-class service to our customers,” explains Claire. “It is so important to offer the best that you can – not just in terms of produce, but the whole experience of shopping at Tavern Tasty Meats.”

With Christmas just around the corner, Claire and her team are readying themselves to step up even more with both meat orders and hampers. “The beauty of shopping locally is that we have access directly to the farmers for example, and we are confident that those who order their turkeys early will receive them. We work very differently to supermarkets as do all butchers and farm shops, and that is why we were able to carry on in the early weeks of the lockdowns, supporting our customers.“

Our hampers remain incredibly popular, and I love the Boxing Day Hamper especially – it consists of a 1kg cooked ham, a medium Norfolk pork pie topped with port-soaked cranberries, 12 cheese straws, eight picnic sausage rolls, a delicious chutney, invariably Candi’s Chutney, from Norfolk, Mrs Temple’s Binham Blue cheese, a Black Bomber cheese and coleslaw. It costs £50 and is always very popular. 

“However, our biggest seller is always the £75 Christmas Meat Hamper – turkey breast roll wrapped in streaky bacon, 3lb topside joint, 400g sausage meat, 10 pigs in blankets, a box of stuffing and a jar of cranberry sauce.

“People are still feeling so uncertain about Christmas. After last year, everyone is really looking forward to having family and friends around them, but there is a hesitancy. A hamper is both a perfect thing to send to friends who you may not see, but also to have in the house ready for when family comes over.”

Having gone through the biggest diversification since Tavern Tasty Meats opened, Claire is planning to continue to evolve the business into 2022. “I have huge plans for next year!” she laughs. “We want to extend the shop and make more of the outside space, which means that we will be able to offer more items. This will not only benefit ourselves and our customers, but also the community as we will be able to offer more jobs and employ more people. We are very excited by what lies ahead.”

As Claire and her team get ready for the most wonderful time of the year, she reflects that out of such adversity came something so positive. “I always had plans to develop Tavern Tasty Meats further,” she explains. “When the first lockdown happened, it meant that now was the time to take those steps, and we are all so proud that we have been able to be there for people. We love our shop and all that we have to offer, and while the last year or so has been challenging, it has also been very rewarding. And you can’t really ask for more than that.” 

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