Award-winning farm shop's growth is fuelling food partnerships

The Pantry at Intwood Farm, south of Norwich

The Pantry at Intwood Farm, outside Norwich. Pictured from left are managers Nigel and Camilla Darling, butchers George Davies and Andy Platten, and staff member Jenny Blackmore (front) - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme

An award-winning farm shop is selling the virtues of mature meat and forging partnerships with its fellow food firms to drive demand for Norfolk produce.

Intwood Farm, south of Norwich, opened its £400,000 rare breeds butchery in May 2020, initially to support a new meat box delivery scheme as customers sought more home-grown food during the first weeks of the Covid pandemic.

Two years later, the growing venture has fulfilled almost 6,000 retail orders and it launched a trade service in the second half of 2021, selling to retailers, restaurants, pubs and a hotel.

Butchers George Davies and Andrew Platten at Intwood Farm. Picture: Danielle Booden

Butchers George Davies and Andrew Platten at work at Intwood Farm's specialist rare breeds butchery - Credit: Danielle Booden

It has also now opened its Pantry farm shop, where meat from the farm's rare native cattle, pigs and sheep is sold alongside produce from a host of other Norfolk suppliers, including Woodforde's Brewery, Brick Pizza, and the Norfolk Cookie Company.

There is a reciprocal deal with firms such as Farmyard - with the farm supplying meat to the Norwich-based restaurant company, which in turn supplies the Pantry with ready meals through its Farmyard Frozen brand

Intwood Farm butcher Andy Platten showing aged meat joints to chef Andrew Jones from the Farmyard Restaurant in Norwich

Intwood Farm butcher Andy Platten showing aged meat joints to chef Andrew Jones from the Farmyard Restaurant in Norwich - Credit: Camilla Darling

And this week the company sold its first orders through Jarrold Store Folk - the Norwich department store's online showcase for independent local suppliers.

These partnerships are a key part of Intwood Farm's company ethos, said business development manager Camilla Darling.

"A lot of the partnerships out there are reciprocal," she said. "The eggs come from the Cluckery (in Repps with Bastwick near Great Yarmouth), and when their animals need butchering, we butcher their animals.

"Last week we took Ketts Hill Bakery to a farmers market and it just flew out. Next week we go live with stocking Kett's Hill bakery with meat. 

"It is all about working together and forging partnerships. Any time we can forge a partnership where they can take our produce and we take theirs - I love that."

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The Pantry opened at the end of November, but its latest investment is a Himalayan salt chiller - which allowed the company to launch a specialist range of aged beef last month.

Meat from the farm's older cattle is hung in the standard fridge for 21 days, then special cuts are placed in the salt chiller until aged for a minimum of six weeks, giving them the unique flavour of extra-matured beef.

Nigel Darling with mature beef ageing in the Himalayan salt chiller at Intwood Farm

Nigel Darling with mature beef ageing in the Himalayan salt chiller at Intwood Farm - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme

Miss Darling said the idea came when she and her father Nigel enjoyed a meal at the Don Txoko Spanish restaurant on St Benedict's Street in Norwich.

"They were doing steak that had been aged and flown over from Spain, and we thought: We could do this - we have got those older animals and we could get a salt chamber and age the meat.

"We gave it a go, and it has all completely sold out. So now we need a bigger salt chamber." 

Don Txoco is now one of several Norfolk restaurants which have bought this specialist product from Intwood Farm.

Nigel Darling with beef cattle at Intwood Farm, outside Norwich

Nigel Darling with beef cattle at Intwood Farm, outside Norwich - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme

Nigel Darling, who manages the farming side of the business, said: "The meat is from breeding cows at the end of their working life. They might be 8-10 years old. 

"Principally that means the beef has much more depth of flavour - but it would ordinarily be tougher.

"So the ageing process breaks the meat down, but you need to make sure it is in a very dry atmosphere. If it was not aged in a salt environment you would lose so much because the outside would go quite mouldy.

"This way you get the benefit of the depth of flavour and you get the tenderness by ageing it.

Beef cattle at Intwood Farm, outside Norwich

Beef cattle at Intwood Farm, outside Norwich - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme

"And then it becomes a premium product. Before, the older cows would be considered less than premium compared to your prime beef, so it has reversed the whole situation."

Following its expansion, Intwood Farm now employs two full-time butchers, two full-time stockmen and two part-time office workers.

Intwood Farm won the New Business of the Year prize at the South Norfolk and Broadland Business Awards 2022

Intwood Farm won the New Business of the Year prize at the South Norfolk and Broadland Business Awards 2022 - Credit: Simon Finlay Photography

And its continued growth was recently rewarded with the New Business of the Year prize at the South Norfolk and Broadland Business Awards.

Now the farm is exploring next steps for the future include the potential expansion of the Pantry, a butchery counter, a larger salt chiller and launching the dry-aged beef products for retail.

Norfolk produce for sale at the Pantry at Intwood Farm, outside Norwich

Norfolk produce for sale at the Pantry at Intwood Farm, outside Norwich - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme