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Indulge at the Oregon Chocolate Festival

Chocolate: a health food?

Chocoholics can indulge and explore chocolate’s health benefits at the 14th annual Oregon Chocolate Festival. Dozens of chocolatiers from Oregon, Washington, California and Utah will present a variety of chocolate-infused products and demonstrate chocolate-inspired recipes. They also will showcase their best confections in the Chocolate Product Competition and Chocolate Dessert Contest. In addition, Oregon vintners, brewers and local food artisans will pair food and beverages for festival-goers to savor and sip.

This year’s event will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 10-11, at Ashland Hills Hotel and Suites, 2525 Ashland St. Two-day passes are $30; a one-day pass is $20. Kids 8 and younger get in free. Tasting sessions and educational demonstrations are free.

Ginger Johnson will host a Chocolate + Beverage Tasting Party from noon to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The menu calls for a different three-course sampling each session.

Herbalist Liz Fairweather will discuss the health benefits of chocolate from 2:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday. She will present fast facts about the Theobrama cacao plant as well as tips for procuring the most nourishing chocolate-making ingredients and share a few simple recipes.

Charlie Douglass, a third-generation chocolatier and retired manager of the bakery and candy kitchens at Harry & David, will take participants on a World Chocolate Tasting Tour from 1:15 to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Douglass, who studied the art and science of chocolate at The French Pastry School in Chicago, created some 75 confections annually in his more than 30 years with Harry & David.

The family-friendly Charlie’s Chocolate 5K Run/Walk is slated for Sunday.

The centerpiece of the chocolate fest is the competition between chocolatiers and chefs.

On Saturday, chocolatiers will compete for honors in such categories as best chocolate bar; best raw chocolate; best chocolate candy, including toffee, caramels and fudge; best bonbon, including truffles; best non-traditional use of chocolate, chocolate sea salt, for example; and best in show. Judges will blind-taste behind closed doors and the winners will be announced at 2 p.m.

On Sunday, Southern Oregon chocolate and pastry chefs Kali Kennedy, Terra Sharp, Allison Brummet, Desiree Straughn, James Williams and Mary Sheard will go whisk-to-whisk in the chocolate dessert competition held in the Grand Ballroom. Judges will taste test at 11:30 a.m. and winners will be announced at noon.

Chef Stephen Durfee of the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone campus in Napa Valley, California, is this year’s featured judge. Durfee's award-winning recipes regularly appear in cookbooks and magazines.

Chef Darrell Folck of the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute in Coos Bay and food and travel blogger Marlynn Schotland will round out the judges’ panel.

The 2017 chocolate competition winners will discuss their culinary tricks at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Festival-goers can vote for the People Choice’s award throughout the two-day event; winners will be announced at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Part of the proceeds from the chocolate festival will benefit The Children’s Miracle Network's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford.

See oregonchocolatefestival.com for a detailed schedule of events, a complete listing of participating vendors and additional ticket information.