Oregon [Hardly Strictly] Chocolate Festival – 2019

Judging competition for individual chocolate recipes.

Bay Area music lovers will understand why we insert [Hardly Strictly] into the title Oregon Chocolate Festival. It may have originally started with all chocolate, but now, in its 15th year, other classes of consumables complement the chocolate at this fun and tasty event which takes place in Ashland annually.

One of many food demonstrations.

March 8-10 of this year, chocolate lovers could pick and choose from a menu of 22 tasty activities ranging from multi-course gourmet meals to food and cocktail demonstrations, pairings, judged competitions, numerous workshops, and a spa demonstration. For many, the highlight would be the two-day exposition in the Grand Ballroom of the host venue, the Ashland Hills Hotel and Suites, which was filled with 43 vendors sampling and selling their goodies.

Preparations for the Chocolate Makers’ Wine Dinner.

Some guests indulged their imaginations with face painting or henna designs prior to titillating their taste buds with chocolate and chocolate related products. Others headed straight for artisan products ranging from chocolate bourbon beer to organic cocoa chai to specialty ingredient mustards and jams, most spiked with wine varietals or tequila.

A cake of chocolate, chocolate, and oh yes, chocolate.

Near the end of this 2-day exposition awards for several categories were announced. The Best Chocolate Candy award went to Holm Made Toffee Company. Perhaps because Karin likes unusual combinations and intense flavors, her personal favorites were Lillie Belle’s blue cheese truffles and Jason Friendly Foods preservative-free, dark chocolate bits with pieces of dried nectarine or ginger. Vic’s favorite was Dobson’s Fookie which combines fudge with cookie. Best in Show went to Michael’s Chocolates, highlighting their spherical, beautifully mirror glazed bonbons, while the Peoples’ Choice Award went to CocoTutti’s hand-painted artistry chocolates.

Festival Organizer Karolina Lavagnino meets the press in the vendors’ hall.

In addition to chocolate, a number of beverage categories were represented in the tasting hall, including wines, craft beer, mead, and specialty teas. Baked goods and honey products were present, as was the region’s most famous purveyor of delectables, Harry and David.

Victors in the best chocolate category for vendors.

Our Oregon Chocolate Festival experience began with a memorable, delectable and perfectly organized Chocolate Makers’ Wine Dinner at Ashland Springs historic downtown hotel. The relaxed atmosphere, four innovative courses with local wine pairings, and fun conversation made this our single favorite event. All 20 tables of eight diners each looked and sounded exceedingly convivial. Chefs and winemakers shared enlightening information and entertaining stories about their dishes and the served wines.

Happy guests at the Chocolate Makers’ Wine Dinner.

Our foodie selves particularly enjoyed the cocoa nib cider braised pork belly terrine with sherry apple marmalade and lemon charcoal chèvre paired with Upper Five’s 2016 Grenache. We also savored the slow-smoked, noble coffee-rubbed beef brisket with bittersweet chocolate coastal huckleberry demi-glacé, complemented by carrot mousseline and paired with Quady North’s 2015 Syrah. The smooth climax for us was the dark Amano chocolate Earl Grey milk chocolate cremeux and passion fruit caramel paired with 2Hawk’s 2015 ruby port.

A tasting comparison of dark chocolates.

Another special event that we enjoyed was a dessert workshop pairing chocolate and wines. The dessert wines were a Stoller Family Estate 2017 Late Harvest Riesling from the Willamette Valley, Oregon, a Spanish Amontillado Sherry, and a Port from the Douro Valley in Portugal. Our final gorge was the Sunday chocolate brunch. Although we sampled chocolate fountain-dipped fruit and poundcake, Vic’s favorite delicacy at the brunch was the polenta benedict, and Karin’s was the croissant bread pudding with pancetta, asparagus, sun dried tomato, black pepper goat cheese and olives.

Face painting livens up the proceedings.

Yummies from a cooking demonstration.

Great news for visitors to the Oregon Chocolate Festival is the price. General admission this year was only $20 for one day or $30 for two, which does not include the special events such as the dinner and brunch. Although this event stands on its own as an attraction, this Southern Oregon area offers other opportunities for the bon vivant that can complement the experience. The week following is typically the time of the Oregon Cheese Festival, which is another gourmand’s delight. The Rogue and Applegate Valley AVAs offer a wide variety of vineyards with wine tastings year round. Finally, for the literary and performance-oriented visitor, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival opens its annual run at the beginning of March as well.

Vic and Karin Cordell

For more information on this fulfilling festival, check out http://www.oregonchocolatefestival.com.