Championing Artisanal Meat Production Through Butchery Excellence

As we commemorate Women's History Month, we are thrilled to shine a spotlight on the extraordinary contributions of Tanya Cauthen to the food and agriculture industry. Through her unparalleled expertise in butchery and dedication to supporting local farmers, Tanya has become a driving force behind the resurgence of artisanal meat production. Join us as we explore Tanya's inspiring journey, characterized by resilience, innovation, and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

 Tanya Cauthen - Owner & Butcher at Belmont Butchery

Butchery Journey:

- Can you share the story of your journey into butchery, and how you navigate and excel in a traditionally male-dominated profession?

I guess everything I have done tends to be 'swimming upstream' from engineering to cooking and now butchery. So, I never really thought about it until people asked the question! I'm sure when I was younger I was offended by not being taken seriously - but that tends to make me work harder! These days I find it amusing when a cold call beelines to the oldest male in my shop for a sales call. But it's also nice - I don't have time to talk to every clueless person who doesn't do at least a little research before trying to sell us something. When I talk to young women wanting to do this - or some other 'traditional' job - I use the adage - work smarter, not harder. And it is completely true! I'm not as strong as the guys, so I have to think through my plans more thoroughly. Skill and finesse are the name of the game - not brute force - but female or male - that makes for a better butcher.

Impact as a Butcher:

In your role at Belmont Butchery, what impact do you believe you've had on the local community and the perception of women in the butchery industry?

I like to believe that I have done more than feed people well over the last 17 years! I hope that I have offered some insight into the food industry and encouraged people to 'vote with their dollars' as to what type of food and agriculture they want to support. When we started in 2006, local wasn't a thing and people were just beginning to be aware of natural, organic, free-range, and all those words. We always featured amazing local farmers - but in 2006 that was 10% of sales. Now that's closer to 60% of sales! I now have a huge network of amazing farms to work with - that option didn't exist 17 years ago.


Supportive Measures:

- What support, training, or initiatives do you think would encourage more women to consider a career in butchery, and how can companies like Fossil Farms play a role in fostering this encouragement?

I think that any support, training, or initiatives that might encourage more women to consider a career in butchery are the same as what every employer is facing in a tough labor market - training and flexibility. It's challenging to hire anyone these days. I feel lucky that as a small business, I can nurture individual talents and as a team, we can be flexible to each other's personal needs - while being mindful of the shop's needs. BUT it requires a culture of inclusion and valuing each individual on the team as an equal player and partner. It's my job to teach required skills and nurture individual interests - when you foster an atmosphere of actual interest in your team - your team will support each other and by extension support the business. I'm proud that over the years former employees have gone on to open over 8 new meat-based businesses. AND during the holidays each year, several former employees or chef-friends will pick up shifts to get us through the busy season.

I think companies like Fossil Farms can best encourage women and young people across the board to consider careers in butchery through education. For employees to understand what 'regenerative agriculture' is they need to go to farms that embrace those practices, for example. To sell more exotic or specialty meats, employees need to see, touch, and eat these meats. They need to understand that to maintain genetic diversity there must be an economic benefit to the farmer to preserve and rear specialty breeds. Consumers and employees don't understand that to maintain genetic diversity - you have to breed the animals to make more... but there needs to be a positive cash flow or economic benefit to doing this. So, you raise and process the extras. That cycle allows for maintaining herds or even better improving diversity in endangered heritage breeds. We have lost so much genetic diversity in the hybridization of feed animals due to industrialization and the desire for cheap meat - but that's a whole other story! I raise heritage breed Hog Island Sheep and maintain a herd of Boer Goats on the side.

Future Plans in Butchery:

Looking ahead, what are your plans and goals in the field of butchery, and how do you see the industry evolving for women?

I'm currently working on a project with a friend to open a microprocessor in central Virginia. Anyone in this industry knows that small local processors are overloaded with work - booking a year or more out! This means if you don't have a relationship with a processor - new farmers can't get dates. Hence a huge barrier to entry for new farmers - essentially a farmer has to book dates before they have even bred their animals! To broaden my knowledge on USDA slaughter, we took a class at VA Tech and were delighted to discover that their Meat Center, at the time, had an all-female team! So, I think industry-wide perceptions of what male or female jobs are slowly being recognized as antiquated. And that the approach is shifting to the best person for the job. As it should be.


Tanya Cauthen's impact on artisanal meat production is undeniable, as she continues to champion excellence in butchery and support local farmers. Her journey exemplifies resilience, innovation, and a steadfast commitment to quality. As we celebrate her achievements, let us be inspired by Tanya's dedication to preserving traditional craft and reshaping the landscape of the food and agriculture industry.