For 15 years, chocolatiers and chocolate lovers have converged on Ashland, Ore., in early March to celebrate all things cacao. The Oregon Chocolate Festival's chocolate-inspired weekend includes brunch, dinners, chef demonstrations, educational sessions, a run, an expo, a chocolate dessert competition and a chocolate product competition.
Visitors sample creations from dozens of West Coast chocolatiers, wineries and other carefully curated vendors. This year, three Bend companies attended, including Inspired Leaf Teas, Lidia's Chocolates and Holm Made Toffee. Each company could submit a product to be judged in a blind tasting in the chocolate product competition. Three prestigious judges—Chef Durfee, Professor of Chocolate and Pastry Arts at the Culinary Institute of America, Lee Theisen, PhD., a chocolate guru, and Charlie Douglass, previously in chocolate research and development for Harry & David—chose the winners.
Here are the awarded chocolate products that may be worth checking out.
Coffee Break Crunch by Temper & Mo, Eugene, Ore.
The coffee break crunch bonbon debuted this year. It's a dark chocolate ganache infused with Cascade Coffee and cream, then enrobed in a 61 percent dark chocolate, hand-painted shell. It tastes like a dark chocolate mocha with a cookie in one delicious bite.
Best Chocolate Candy
Ginger & Spice by Holm Made Toffee, Bend
The ginger & spice hazelnut toffee is your favorite ginger snap cookie falling into toffee. The warm baking spices hover on top of dark chocolate and buttery toffee.
Best Chocolate Tablet
Dark Star by Lillie Belle Farms, Central Point, Ore.
Dark chocolate, especially at 80 percent, can taste bitter, but the dark star blends just the right amount of sugar with cacao from Madagascar, Venezuela and Peru to create a delightful bean-to-bar experience.
Best Chocolate Beverage
Mint Mayan Spice Drinking Chocolate by Super Natural Chocolate Company, Grants Pass, Ore.
Usually cacao is roasted when making chocolate, but the Super Natural Chocolate Company keeps its beans from heat, creating an earthy, rich drinking chocolate layered with warm spices and cool mint.
CocoTutti Chocolates, San Francisco, Calif.
Attendees cast their vote for the chocolatier that wowed them the most. This year's is used to winning awards. Since 2012, owner Elyce Zahn has racked them up—including previous awards from the Oregon Chocolate Festival. I tried the ginger caramel with chili peanuts bar. The pop of fresh ginger with chocolate lingered on my palate and mind long afterward.
Best Non-Traditional Use of Chocolate
CJ Coconut Delight Fookie by Dobson's Fookie, Lincoln, Calif.
What the fudge is a fookie? It's a cookie topped with fudge. This one is a dark chocolate cookie, baked with caramel, topped with dark chocolate fudge and coconut. The company started with just fudge, and as they like to say, they "fudged it up" when the fookie was born.
Best in Show
Michael's Chocolates, San Francisco, Calif.
To win Best in Show, chocolatiers not only need to have amazing products, but also packaging, booth design and popularity with guests. Festival newcomer, Michael's Chocolates, took home the big win. I tried their Good Food Award-winning bonbon, lemon burst, a lemon pâte de fruit and white chocolate lemon ganache in a 61 percent dark chocolate shell, hand painted with cocoa butter. It was a fabulous, bright, zesty delight. Behind these craveable chocolate creations is Chef Michael Benner, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and Ecole Chocolate.
If you love everything chocolate put the Oregon Chocolate Festival on your calendar for 2020.