Couple leave award-winning Suffolk pub to launch charcuterie business
- Credit: Sam Gee
“We don’t know where to start!” Tara Smyth beams, talking about her and chef partner James Santillo’s newfound ‘freedom’.
The couple are due to host their last hurrah at The Duke’s Head pub in Somerleyton (part of the Somerleyton Estate) on July 17, after nearly two decades in the hospitality industry.
It’s a bittersweet conclusion to what’s been a very successful venture for the duo, who have transformed the venue into a destination – lauded for its no-nonsense approach to food and drink. The kitchen has been renowned both locally and at a national level, for its simple menu of suppers cast from ingredients sourced via small, artisanal producers. Where else in Suffolk can you choose a rib of heritage beef on the bone (by weight) from a chalkboard, waiting eagerly for it to be delivered to the table for sharing? Carved. Drenched in house butter. Paired with a bowl of crisp Clink’s Farm leaves and hand cut chips. It’s a meat-lover's dream.
While Tara says Covid wasn’t the main culprit forcing the decision not to renew their lease this year...it remains a factor. And they are both sad to be saying goodbye to the beautiful old pub that’s been their home for the past few years. “I, personally, feel a bit guilty when customers say they’re sad to see us go,” Tara reveals.
But it’s very much onwards and upwards with their brand-new food business, Sunday Charcuterie. If you’ve visited the pub in the last year or so, you’ve likely sampled a plate of salamis, pickles and remoulade from the concise selection of starters.
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James has been perfecting and honing his curing technique and, thanks to local council funding, has been able to kit out and expand a purpose-designed charcuterie kitchen with Tara at Oulton Broad.
The name? It’s inspired by those quiet moments of reflection together on a Sunday evening, after a long week of service. “We’re always too tired to cook,” smiles Tara. “You just don’t feel like it after being in the kitchen all day...all week. On Sunday nights we’d quite often sit down with a plate of charcuterie, cheese and wine to pick at. The name just seemed to stick.”
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Talking about the brave depart from the pub trade, branching out on their own, Tara adds: “We needed to do something that was future-proof. A business we could have as a full-time operation. And it made sense to step away to do this. It also meant no more 100-hour weeks. You can’t take a Saturday night off when you run a pub. It’s really your customers that are your boss,” she laughs. “You can’t say, ‘sorry, we’re not coming in today, our friends are having a barbecue’!”
Inevitably, the ethos James and Tara applied to food at The Duke’s Head, has weaved its way into many aspects of Sunday Charcuterie. Chiefly their insistence on only working with trusted farms to source their pork. Farms which share their values with regards welfare and quality.
“Through the pub we’ve curated a really nice list of these producers,” Tara says. “If you’ve got a good pork chop, you don’t need to dress it up with anything – that's always been how we’ve worked in the pub. And the same applies to salami. If we start with a good product, we don’t need to do a lot with it to bring out the flavour.
“We visit all the farms we work with. They are truly free-range. We can guarantee the pigs have been reared in the happiest way possible. Because they’re not intensively reared and not ‘part of a process’, they’ve been able to grow up and socialise and be pigs.”
Tara and James work with farms in Suffolk, Norfolk and a few further afield – suppliers include Maypole Pork, and Thatched House Farm near Norwich, which rears British Lops just a few miles from their kitchen.
Currently the range includes five salamis and a growing collection of whole muscle charcuterie.
“We’ve got garlic and black pepper salami. It’s a bit like a French saucisson sec or Italian Salsiccia Secca – with just some salt, a little bit of pepper and garlic. It’s so good.
“We’ve just made our first batch of pepperoni – we're starting to contact a few places that make pizza with that.
“And we’re really excited about our salami San Lorenzello. That’s named after the village in Italy’s Campania region where James’ father is from. It’s an entirely new recipe. It’s a darker salami - the colour is more like a chorizo – and it’s got some cayenne, paprika and fennel running through. James also hand dices some fat and runs it through as well, so it looks more interesting when it’s sliced.”
Then there are the thin slivers of coppa (from the collar), lonza (from the loin), pancetta and guanciale – cut from the cheek, and the only porcine ingredient used in Italy to make authentic carbonara.
“Our cullatello has been popular as well. It’s like a ham, but it’s cut from a different muscle, so it’s a quicker cure. It eats similar to prosciutto.
“We’re so excited about this, and the feedback so far has been good. We genuinely can’t believe how much people are enjoying it [the charcuterie]. It seems less scary when customers are telling us they like what we’re doing. Our biggest seller and the most popular so far is the fennel salami. It’s not one you’d really find easily in a lot of supermarkets. We toast off the fennel seeds so you get this big, bold fennelly flavour. It’s delicious.”
Both Tara and James are relishing a new, slower pace of life. Rather than dashing about a hot kitchen, from oven to stove, after curing, the process for the majority of Sunday Charcuterie’s products is 10 to 14, or even 16, weeks. So a little more time to put their feet up then?
“We’re going to miss so many aspects of being in the trade, but I know James is looking forward to being able to actually cook for us, at home,” Tara jokes.
And what do Sundays have in store now for the couple?
“I don’t know. Maybe we can finally go out for a roast lunch,” Tara muses.
You can find Sunday Charcuterie on the menu at The Anchor pub and Black Dog Deli in Walberswick, at Earsham Street Deli in Bungay, and Slate in Southwold and Aldeburgh. Find out more, including future stockists, at sundaycharcuterie.co.uk