Raising pigs "closes the loop" and minimizes waste on Ken and Susan Muller's Talent farm.

Raising pigs "closes the loop" and minimizes waste on Ken and Susan Muller's Talent farm.

Supplementing the swine's scraps with day-old artisan bread, sopped in raw milk from the farm's Jersey cows, maximizes their meat's flavor.

"It's the most expensive pig food," says Susan Muller, part owner of Rogue Valley Brambles. "The breed's important but not as important as what they eat."

The farm's six pigs have fattened for almost a year and soon are bound for the butcher's. But rather than hiring out the slaughter and skipping the steps that fill their freezer, the Mullers plan to have their hands in the entire process. And they're extending the same education to a few members of the public.

Lessons will come from Farmstead Meatsmith, a Washington business founded last year to teach on-farm slaughtering and small-scale butchering, as well as traditional methods of preserving meats, known as charcuterie. Owners Brandon and Lauren Sheard have hosted 16 classes, but the most popular topic is old-fashioned hog harvesting.

"It all comes down to bacon," says Lauren Sheard.

Bacon is the end result of a two-day project that starts with a rifle shot to the pig's head and progresses through sticking, hanging, scalding and eviscerating. The innards are set aside for later use and blood conserved for making blood sausage. Sausage-making continues the following day, along with carving techniques and curing the belly for bacon and the cheeks for guanciale, a traditional Italian meat.

"The hands-on nature is stunning to people," says Sheard. "It's just a fun day."

Participants decide how involved they want to be and if they want to observe the killing stroke, says Sheard, adding that Farmstead has never heard negative comments on any aspect of its operation. In fact, the clamor for custom services caused Brandon Sheard to leave his job as head butcher for a small farm near Seattle that raised hogs, steers, lambs and chickens for its on-site restaurant. The couple made their first trip to the Rogue Valley last year to harvest a family member's pigs in Grants Pass.

"A lot of city folk have a few backyard chickens," says Lauren Sheard. "We knew there was a demand for being taught these skills."

Not just in high demand, butchers recently have usurped chefs as rock stars of the food world. Profiled in newspapers, magazines and books, such as Julie Powell's "Cleaving," meatmeisters are drawing crowds at chic, big-city events. People are paying hundreds and even thousands of dollars for lessons that Powell got for free in 2004, just by asking.

The past decade has been one of heightened food consciousness, a surging interest in artisanal food and a deep concern for transparency in American food production. And the past year, in particular, seems to have been a tipping point. As documentaries such as "Food Inc." play at theaters across the country and Michael Pollan's books race up the best-seller lists, the realization is setting in that meat doesn't come shrink-wrapped.

The Mullers have been slaughtering chickens for a loyal and growing clientele for the past four years. But Rogue Valley Brambles' first forays into pork were so complimented that the couple raised four more this year to sell by the whole, half or quarter carcass. Butchering the 220-pounds hogs under Farmstead's supervision means they can keep the animals' skin, entirely edible and delicious but usually removed in commercial butchering.

It also allows the Mullers to taste the fruits of their labors almost immediately. Freshly killed pork, along with a green salad and starchy side dish, will compose the lunch at each class.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com. McClatchy News Service contributed to this story.