10 Minutes With: Jessica Wragg, Gingerpig

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th October 2018

Jessica Wragg is a butcher and is the Online Operations Manager at The Ginger Pig in London.

Butcher. Blogger. Author. Online Guru. Gemini – Jessica Wragg is many things but is probably most known for being one of the UK’s most renowned female butchers.

Originally from Derbyshire, Jessica first picked up a knife at the age of 16 and from then onwards, the rest was (as they say) history.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Jessica about being a butcher, working at Ginger Pig and what it means to her to receive a book deal.

Jess
The alternative method
to cutting meat!

The greatest things sometimes happen by accident and this remains true for Jessica Wragg who went to work at a farm shop in her home county of Derbyshire and was unexpectedly put on the meat counter. This proved to be a pivotal moment and resulted in a butchery career that has lasted almost ten years. 

Jessica recalled: “It was by total accident that I ended up in my job in the first place. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the industry – everything from farming, to slaughter, to the carcass balance and to breaking down the animals too.”

Attracted by the passion and knowledge of the people from the industry, Jessica undertook her training on the Chatsworth Estate citing that she was ‘desperate’ to learn and develop the huge amounts of skills required to become a butcher.

The Estate is one of the most renowned and largest, not only within the region but within the whole of the country too. As reflected in the industry, the intake of trainees was very much weighted to males and Jessica was one of the only girls on the course.

She claims it was ‘intimidating’ at times but her ambitious nature and perseverance shone through. 

“It took a lot of willingness to learn and enthusiasm to show the guys that I was ready to be given more responsibility," she said. "But slowly I earned my stripes! All of the meat in the butchery was sourced from the estate itself and the local Peak District – I’m not sure I could have had better grounding than one of the oldest and most revered farm shops within the UK.”

Now one of the top ‘females butchers’ working in the industry, is being classed as a ‘female butcher’ a negative thing to Jessica?  

“Being a woman in this industry is both a blessing and a curse," she explained. "I’ve said this and will talk about it much more in my book that comes out next year; women are still the surprise both behind the counter, in the offices, in the fields with the animals themselves. Sometimes there’s a lack of respect simply because people are used to seeing or hearing a man, but that can work to our advantage too. A lot of women I know in butchery have made a name for themselves purely because they still have a new perspective and new voice within it. “

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Credit: Ginger Pig Ltd Instagram

Female or male, woman or man, like in any industry, there are still lessons to be learnt working in an industry with so much history and heritage. 

“Fight your corner," said Jessica. "Always show a willingness to learn, and be patient. The men and women that I learned from spent years and years perfecting their craft and you have to respect that – you won’t learn it overnight, and those who want to won’t last. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go because they weren’t being shown how to break down a forequarter of beef within a week of starting.”

There are around 5240 independent butchers in the UK according to research by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, but what is preventing women from becoming butchers? Jessica believes it is down to the conditions.

She said: “It’s a physical job, and it’s a dirty job, that’s probably part of it, but the main problem definitely lies in the fact that there are no women as an example. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle, women are scarce in the industry, so women who might potentially want to work in the industry are put off.”

Ten years ago, there seemed to be a decline in butcheries, closing largely down to consumers buying their meat from supermarkets. However, it seems that the tide has turned, and people are buying with their meat from local butchers.

Jessica said: “Supermarkets had effectively monopolised the industry. That changed probably about 5 or 6 years ago, the horsemeat scandal did a lot for this, and people now really want to know what they’re eating and trust in what they put in their bodies. Only a butcher can really tell you that – unfortunately, you won’t know by picking something up from a shelf.”

She added: “We need to understand as a nation that cutting meat completely out of your diet isn’t the healthiest option but eating very good quality meat less often than industrially farmed meat every day is. The change will start at the consumer level – as soon we are realising buying cheap meat is bad for both us and the environment, there’ll be a shift.”

Ginger Pig
The Ginger Pig

Jessica’s advocacy and passion are evident and whilst she is not handling meat every day (within her role as Online Operations Manager at Ginger Pig – the UK’s largest and most renowned butchers in the industry) she teaches butchery masterclasses and still gets her hands ‘dirty’ as much as she can. 

She said: “I just love that there’s so much to learn, still, after ten years. There’ll always be a new wave of cooking style that changes how we cut our meat, another style of butchery that becomes trendy and it’s ever-changing. It’s also so fascinating to be in this industry at such a crucial time, and especially working for Ginger Pig. I love that most of our management team are women – that’s pretty special!”

Would she encourage a young person who is considering a career as a butcher to go for it? Absolutely! 

“The best way to prepare yourself is to eat!" She said. "Go out to restaurants, try a cut of meat that you wouldn’t normally, push yourself out of your comfort zones with offals and something unusual. The more you know from this point of view the more it’ll help you when you finally get behind a counter. It’s also really important to find a good place to start – a butchery that buys in whole carcasses from small, independent farms. You’ll be able to see the whole carcass breakdown which is super important to understanding where the meat comes from.”

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Mastering the art of butchery

Choosing a favourite cut of meat as a butcher could be considered an impossible task but apparently nothing  'will beat a chicken thigh'.

"We’re so programmed as a society to prefer breast meat that it’s impacted the genetics of the chickens that we buy," explained Jessica. "They’re bred specifically for bigger breasts so that retailers can make more money. Thigh and leg meat, though, is a thousand times tastier because of the darker meat and fat. Slow-roasted chicken thighs, skin on, with a coconut curry sauce and rice is a simple but delicious midweek meal.”

As well as work, Jessica is a keen blogger and has also written for a variety of different publications. She studied Creative Writing at University, attaining not only a degree but an MA too. She attributes her passion for writing to her childhood passion for creating stories. 

She has recently signed a book deal and her debut book ‘Girl on the Block’ will be published next Spring. 

"I’m really lucky and feel so privileged, to have had some amazing opportunities."

By Emma Harrison

@canteenemma

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th October 2018

10 Minutes With: Jessica Wragg, Gingerpig