Lucy Stendall sent us a message a little while back asking if she could write a Jobs for The Girls post. Not for herself (we’ve already done that), but for a job that she has always found fascinating (she’s told me many a time that if she wasn’t a photographer, or a lawyer, this would be her dream job).
It’s a fascinating read – the daily life, the reasons behind Charlotte’s career choice, what she hopes for the future. And so relevant right now, what with the current horse-meat debacle.
Lucy’s enthusiasm is contagious in this piece readers; enjoy!
I first heard about The Girl Butcher on twitter when she opened her first shop near my university city of Newcastle upon Tyne in the New Year. One of just a handful of female run butchers in the country, my interest was well and truly piqued. I knew that I had to ask if she’d share her story on Jobs for the Girls.
One of my earliest shopping memories is of queuing in the butchers shop with my grandparents, the clean and unmistakeable smell of raw meat, the sight of striped aprons, shiny cleavers, wooden boards, the sound of produce being put on scales, weights being read out to customers’ satisfaction and the wrapping up of meaty parcels. There were miniature porcelain pigs in the window at this shop, which I can see as clear as if it were yesterday. My grandpa begged the butcher to let him buy one of those porcelain pigs (along with every other grandparent who went in the shop apparently!) but he was never allowed.
Perhaps because of these memories, butchery has long been one of those jobs to fascinate me. Something so rooted in my love for food, provenance, supporting British farmers and traditional skills, and yet something that is traditionally the preserve of men. It was certainly a career I was never told about at school.
Learning about the Girl Butcher coincided with the horse meat scandal and a renewed interest in where our meat comes from and increased foot flow in butchers shops up and down the land. I had a lot of questions, to get a feel for what was involved and to piece together a sense of what Charlotte’s life is like.
Charlotte describes a typical day “At 5.30am I go to work and begin prep for the shop and set my counter up, or make sausages, cure bacon or make black pudding.” Charlotte sums the job up as “a very physical job and it can require a lot of strength and also repetition. It’s important to keep your eye on the ball and not become complacent”. I naively didn’t think that such early starts would be required, but when you think about it, those fresh sausages don’t just magic themselves. And that’s not the end of the physical demands of the job. Charlotte opens her shop at 8am and carries on creating joints, cutting chops and serving customers all day until it’s time to shut the doors at 5pm “then I clean down and go home!” Knowing all this, it is perhaps unsurprising that the biggest compromise for Charlotte is time “There aren’t enough hours in the day at all. And my biggest reward is my day off – Sunday” she ponders, “No, it’s when a customer returns and tells me they enjoyed what they bought…I love it when a customer asks for an unusual cut of meat, or if I have to get in something special.”
I have to say I’m very boring when it comes to cuts of meat I buy, what about you? I suppose because I’m a little bit intimidated by all the bits of the animal I don’t know the names of and supermarket shelves only tend to stock the most popular cuts. Which I suppose makes people like me even more wary of trying a new cut, which might actually be tastier and cheaper. Hearing Charlotte’s obvious enthusiasm for this aspect of the job inspires me to be a little more adventurous and, to ask for advice from someone in the know.
Considering the apparent pitfalls of buying meat from supermarkets it is interesting that Charlotte cites not being able to compete with supermarket prices as a necessary evil. Since I have been shopping for my meat at the butchers I have found the prices competitive. And if a certain kind of meat is more expensive per kilogram, I either spend what I wanted to and take less meat, or spend that little extra.
In light of recent events, is it any wonder that supermarkets can offer meat at lower prices? But at what cost? We can’t blame customers for wanting or needing good value, but I am firmly of the opinion that as with many products, we have been lulled into a false sense of the true cost of meat. We have also been trained not to think or care about the impact of supermarkets on farmers, on animals, on how far meat has to travel before we put it in our bodies or who is handling our meat before we do. What about the alternatives? Making meat go further using vegetables, reducing waste by using leftovers to make another meal, using better value cuts and cooking it in a way to bring out all the flavour, or eating less meat each week but making the meat we do eat better quality?
But enough of me and my soapbox. How exactly do you get into butchery? Its not something you tend to see listed in the jobs section of the paper. “I was unable to get an apprenticeship due to my having a degree” explains Charlotte, who studied Theology at York before pursuing her current career, “I have since then created my own curriculum and been up and down the country watching and working with dozens of butchers. However I would recommend more formal training if possible.” And what core skills would Charlotte identify in herself? “Butchering is a very physical job and it can require a lot of strength and also repetition. It’s important to keep your eye on the ball and not become complacent.”
Overcoming obstacles is clearly part of Charlotte’s vocabulary “I think anyone who believes in their product can run a good business with the right support. One always has to seek help if they feel they’re struggling” And what does she wish she did better? “I wish I was more patient.” I’m sure a lot of us can relate to that. And how do you know if you’re getting better at what you do when you are working for yourself? “I know by how organised I’m being but my family are very supportive and always tell the truth.”
It’s a rare thing that we can’t let our mind wander onto what else we’d do if we weren’t doing our job. Charlotte is no different “I love writing. But I like to think that could be part of this” A cook book perhaps…? But she is unapologetically determined to develop her current career “There is no Plan B” she says “All or nothing”. So how does she stay motivated? “I’m a pretty driven person, but not driven to succeed as such, just driven to do what I love which is creating food for people and experienting with recipes.”
Thank you for sharing more about your job with Any Other Woman, I am sure I won’t be the only one to be inspired by your story. I only wish I still lived in Newcastle so you could be my butcher.
The Butchers shop I went to as a child has now closed but they have taken over a shop in the next village from me and I love shopping there. They no longer have those porcelain pigs in the window though, I wonder what happened to them?
Charlotte’s Butchery 15 Ashburton Road, Gosforth, Tyne & Wear
Opening hours: Monday-Friday 8am -5pm, Saturday 7am – 3pm
*images courtesy of Charlotte’s Butchery*