21st Century girl

Jane Pikett meets Charlotte Harbottle, one of the few female butchers in the region, a prodigious blogger and Tweeter, and a barmaid to boot

Charlotte Harbottle has spent the afternoon butchering an arthritic pig. How does she know? You can tell, she says, from the condition of the meat.

Blimey, I didn’t know butchers were detectives as well. “It’s a bit like CSI at times,” she says. “Honestly, you can tell so much from the meat; how an animal was reared and died, whether it had any health issues. It’s fascinating.”

Fascinating also, she says, to be learning her trade under the supervision of her boss, veteran Newcastle butcher George Payne.

“It was him who told me the pig had arthritis,” she says. “The man’s just amazing. He knows so much.”

Charlotte is still training but knows enough now to put her love of writing into a blog and regular Tweets about her trade, writing under the online pseudonym Girl Butcher.

She relishes her role both front and back of house at Payne’s butchers in Gosforth and Fenwick’s food hall in the city centre.

“I love talking to people about the meat, where it’s come from, how best to cook it,” she says. “It’s a really enjoyable part of the job and I have a real passion for it.”

She also enjoys the artistry and science of butchery. There is something enthralling in the precision of trimming a pig’s head, she says, taking pride in removing the cheeks, making the most of every bit of the animal which has, after all, made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of our bellies.

She makes sausages and haggis, knots the joints ready for sale and treats the carcasses under her knives with the respect they are due.

Oh, and she’s also a dab hand at chicken liver pate, so the day after we meet she is due to make 150 portions of it for her wedding, due to take place just 48 hours later.

She’s working right up to the day before her nuptials to classical singer Anthony Harbottle, despite the fact that they are doing all the food themselves. “I love the fellowship of food, so it seemed only right to do it ourselves,” she says with enviable calm.

A theology and RE graduate, Charlotte had her first taste of butchery with a part time job in her university city of York.

Her mother comes from farming stock and is an agricultural lawyer, but that is the extent of her preparation for such an unusual student job, but Charlotte – a big meat eater even then – took to it like a duck to water and had no doubt of her calling after graduation.

“I love the classless nature of a butcher’s shop,” she says. “You can come in with 50p in your purse and buy a good chop, or £300 to spend on a big dinner party; either customer is just as important.

“In fact, I love the cheaper cuts of meat and I really enjoy advising customers about what they can do.”

Charlotte’s advice is to build a relationship with your butcher. If you’re concerned about sourcing and slaughtering, just ask; your butcher should know the provenance of every joint on the counter.

If you’re lacking inspiration, or plain old knowledge, ask again, she says. “Your butcher should be able to advise you as well as a chef,” she says.

Charlotte is now in the unusual position of being both butcher and barmaid at The Queen Victoria in the High Street, Gosforth, where George Payne meat is used on the new menu.

“At least I can vouch for the quality of the meat,” she says. “George specialises predominantly in rare breed meat and the produce used at the pub is the best quality. The Sunday lunch is fantastic; I know because I probably butchered it.”

Charlotte is at George Payne Butchers, Princes Lane, Gosforth, Newcastle, and Fenwick, Newcastle, www.georgepaynebutchers.co.uk

Follow Charlotte on Twitter @girlbutcher and her blog at www.girlbutcher.co.uk



Girl Butcher

Favourite meat dish

Calves’ liver done in shallots and garlic and served with spinach and rocket salad

Fridge/store cupboard staples

Red onion marmalade, sausage of every variety, lots of bacon, every mustard variety imaginable, condiments (“I’m sinking in condiments,” she says)

Favourite beer (she’s a barmaid, after all)

Deuchars IPA or Bombardier

Where did she get her love of cooking from?

Her father, Peter Mitchell, former director of programmes at Tyne Tees TV

Where did she get her love of writing from?

Her paternal grandfather, James Mitchell, who wrote the TV series When the Boat Comes In

Girl butcher recipe

Charlotte always recommends leg of lamb (on the bone, slow cooked) with anchovies and paprika. The anchovies melt away, so even for those who aren’t keen on fish it’s worth it. It’s stunning and a bit different from the usual rosemary!

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