Oregon Chocolate Festival Showcases The Chic-est Chocolate In Ashland

ASHLAND, Ore. — Decadent, delicious, and downright devilish local chocolate samples will be tempting ticket holders at the 20th Annual Oregon Chocolate Festival marketplace that’s happening March 2-3 at the Neuman Hotel Group’s Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites.

With a dedicated foodie following, artisanal chocolate highlights the characteristic flavors and taste of the environment imparted by locally grown ingredients. Coveted in the world of high-end chocolate, local products blended with imported cocoa seeds define the products, according to the Oregon Chocolate Festival organizer Karolina Wyszynska Lavagnino.

Staring out two decades ago with 14 vendors, the growth of the festival came about when chocolate lovers- who once relied on European-made gourmet products, discovered that there are more choices of high-quality U.S.-made sweets available. Lavagnino, who started the Oregon Chocolate Festival, noticed that consumers crave food that speaks of the region- something local chocolate makers specialize in, buying from local farmers and distillers to hand-make truffles, toffee, and chocolate bars with new and old recipes- some infused with local liqueurs.


Chocolatiers at Oregon Chocolate Festival

One such chocolatier is Deena Branson, confectioner and owner of Branson’s Chocolates in Ashland. Branson and over 50 West Coast artisan makers will have tables crammed with enticing product packages for sale and offer irresistible samples of their best chocolate.

Portland area confectioners include Hygge Chocolates- creator of the inventive dark chocolate Pine Needle ganache and award-winning Brown Cheese Bonbons, as well as Moku Chocolate, crafters of medlies like goat milk blended with dark milk chocolate made from Colombian-grown seeds of the cacao tree- a native of the Amazon rainforest.

But it’s Ashland that has emerged as the epicenter of chic chocolate. Scharffen Berger, the state’s best-known chocolate producer was the first American company to use “bean-to-bar.” Founder John Scharffenberger is also a winemaker and aims to make chocolate akin to fine wine, allowing cacao’s true flavors to emerge without blocking it with sugars.

Founded in 2001, Branson’s Chocolates followed in the chocolatey footsteps of Dagoba’s legacy of organic chocolate, establishing Ashland-based Cocoa & Craft, and selling chocolate bars, such as the one with orange bits sweetened by Oregon wildflower honey. North of Ashland is the 52-acre Harry & David campus in Medford, which produces and sells mass quantities of desserts designed to have a long shelf life, unlike Branson and other small chocolate makers who don’t use preservatives.

Rogue Valley chocolatier, Jeff Shepherd of Lillie Belle Farms in Central Point, makes smokey blue cheese bonbons with ingredients from the world-famous Rogue Creamery. Their award-winning Rogue River Blue is wrapped in locally grown Syrah grape leaves, then soaked in pear to create a unique treat.

Shepherd has been winning awards for over 25 years, and his offerings include gloriously gruesome and delicious voodoo bunnies and brains for Halloween, while Grants Pass’s Super Natural Chocolate Company sells guilt-free treats like vegan marshmallows dipped in house-made chocolate, topped with dye-free sprinkles. People with restricted ingredients in their diets will be able to taste and buy gluten-free, vegan, and dairy-free crafted chocolates.

Talks on cacao cultivation, and chocolate and beer pairings are included in the presentation, and visitors can learn how to make Viennese-style chocolate baguettes. Fans will be able to work out their favorites, while judges will issue awards in the Chocolate Product Competition.


Details of Oregon Chocolate Festival

Branson suggests that visitors to the festival avoid feeling “chocolated out” and fatiguing their tastebuds by having a small meal, perhaps half sandwich, halfway through the event. But a lot is happening aside from just sampling chocolate.

Neuman Hotel Group’s Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites
Neuman Hotel Group – Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites


The festival marketplace is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on March 2-3. Children 8 and under enter free and for everyone else admission is $25 per person per day or $40 for a two-day pass. With the Chocolate Gnome Hunt, Wonka Chocolate Costume Contest,  Charlie’s Chocolate Run, and the fabled Chocolate Maker’s Wine Dinner, visitors will be spoiled for choice, but some events are already sold out.

Tickets are still available for a brunch buffet of savory-to-sweet chocolate-infused delights on March 2-3  and cost $39 plus fees per adult, and $29 plus fees per child aged 4-10.

More details and booking is available on the Oregon Chocolate Festival website.
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