CHARLOTTE Harbottle can’t wait to get her teeth into her new meaty venture as she takes to the helm of her own butchers’ shop today.
The self-styled ‘Girl Butcher,’ who tweets and has her own blog under the same tags, opens the doors of Charlotte’s Butchery in Ashburton Road in Gosforth today.
North East restaurateur Terry Laybourne is cutting the ribbon and local foodies will be popping in to show their support, like blogger Anna Hedworth and private Indian chef Maunika Gowardhan.
Opening the shop is something of a fulfilment of a dream for the 24-year-old from Gosforth, Newcastle who is taking over the butchery premises of AE Hubb.
She acknowledges she has a good solid base to work from with butcher Colin’s clientele and is fully open to the public from noon.
“It’s the fulfilment of a dream, completely, 100%,” says the bubbly Charlotte, who has long wavy hair, and is dressed in trendy tweed jacket, when we meet.
So how does a theology graduate of York Uni and an old girl of Church High independent school in Newcastle, find herself working as a butcher?
It’s not exactly a well-trodden career path for a woman, Charlotte is the first to admit.
She reckons she’s one of about three female butchers in England. “There is one in Smithfield market in London.” And she doesn’t know of anyone else in the North East.
“I got into butchering when I was working part-time through my uni course in theology in York,” explains Charlotte. “I fell in love with it. I really enjoyed it.”
After graduating she took a year out, but then fell back in to butchery, and as she says herself, “I’ve never looked back”.
She learned the trade working alongside established butchers in the North East as well as a couple of high-end establishments in London.
She started out working in Stewart and Co deli and butchery in Jesmond for a few months in 2011, then for award-winning butcher George Payne at Brunton Park in Gosforth, until she says, she was head-hunted to move to London.
“I then worked for O’Shea’s of Knightsbridge and then Lidgate’s in Holland Park.”
Charlotte explains she picked up her skills as she went along. “I had skilled butchers showing me what to do.”
She is married to Tony, a classical singer, who works for various choral establishments, and also trains dogs part-time.
She adds: “As a 24-year-old having the shop I feel fabulously lucky. It’s exciting. Everybody has been so lovely and I have a lot of contacts in the area.
“In terms of the shop, I’m going to be keeping up with what the previous owner kept on, at first until I’m settled – and I don’t want to alienate his current customers.”
The sausages will be changing, however, as Charlotte is switching to using a natural casing.
“Essentially anything will be available from beef, pork and lamb. I’m still sussing out my poultry suppliers at the moment.
“I also have lots of contacts from Smithfield in London, should there be something a little more exotic that people are after.
“I am also going to try my luck on some veal as well – and see how that goes.”
In terms of suppliers Charlotte will be using Thompson’s of Witton-le-Wear in County Durham, which sources its meat form local farmers. “I have been to the abbatoir – it’s immaculate.
“I’m going to use local suppliers as much as possible but I will look further afield if I have to, depending on what people want.”
Charlotte is keen too to promote the less fashionable cuts of meat, in recognition of the fact that a lot of the animal can go to waste.
Fortunately, people now are into the likes of ox cheek, beef shoulder and beef flank, as one-time unpopular cuts of meat now appear on smart restaurants’ menus.
“The most popular cuts are sirloin, fillet and rib-eye but I want to encourage brisket, short rib, flank steak and chuck steak.
“What I want to try and encourage is people trying something new, whether it’s brisket instead of topside, or onglet instead of fillet.
“I’m happy to push that side of things as well as the popular cuts.”
When it comes to the handling of the carcass and the meat itself, Charlotte is very particular.
“I’m careful and very respectful of the meat.” And mindful too of the fact that the animal has made the ultimate sacrifice for meat-eaters.
“You can tell a lot about the meat, male or female, frozen or not frozen, and the sort of life it’s led, if it’s been abused or led a good life.”
Charlotte has her own blog, where she is known as girlbutcher.co.uk and she is prolific on Twitter as @girlbutcher, where she has notched up 1,600-plus followers. “I tweet about food, how to care for food, my life generally.”
Her mum, an agricultural consultant, and her father, a former director of programmes at Tyne Tees Television, have been very supportive of the venture too. (Incidentally, her paternal grandfather, James Mitchell, was the series creator for TV’s When The Boat Comes In).
Her parents are no longer together, but her dad, Peter Mitchell, who worked for Tyne Tees until the late 90s, is now a business consultant for The Ideas Mine, and her mum has lots of contacts in the farming world through her work. Her brother Jamie, 23, works for Tesco in Manchester.
She will run the shop largely on her own, although her mum will be helping out initially.
“I’m going to try my best to keep my prices as competitive as possible. I’m just aiming for top quality service. I will hopefully be doing a bit of wholesale too, just to keep the ball rolling.”
She’s hoping to supply a few pubs and a restaurant in Gosforth. “I’m willing to supply anyone who wants supplied basically.
“Fundamentally, I’m into what the customer wants.”