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Oregon Chocolate Festival makes a sweet in-person return

Truffle samples from a past Oregon Chocolate Festival. MT file photo

Mark your calendar for the annual Oregon Chocolate Festival in Ashland this weekend, where you can explore the delights of the confection to your heart’s content.

The event will be held in the ballrooms of Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites and Convention Center, located at 2525 Ashland St.

Festivalgoers can see demos, enjoy tastings and buy chocolate and related products from an expected 50 vendors, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 5-6. Masks will be required, and the number of people entering ballroom spaces will be regulated.

Tickets already have been sold out for the popular Chocolate Makers’ Wine Dinner on Friday night, March 4, at the historic Ashland Springs Hotel.

The festival partners with wineries for the dinner, many of which also participate at the vendors’ expo.

The festival is bringing back the Chocolate Sunday Brunch, held at Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites on March 6, with seatings beginning at 9:30 a.m. The brunch includes house-made pastries, bacon and goat cheese baked eggs with sausage gravy French toast bread pudding with caramelized bananas, pecans and caramel sauce, plus an assortment of desserts and sides. Cost is $28 per person or $15 for children 12 and under. For daily tickets, more information, and festival updates, go to oregonchocolatefestival.com.

Among the vendors committed to the festival are Amano Artisan Chocolate, Branson’s Chocolates, B’s Bites Homemade Toffee, Cacao Kingdom, Call Me Sweetea, Dolcetta Artisan Sweets, Hazelnut Hill, Inspired Leaf Teas, Sharffen Berger Chocolate, Kindred Cooks Caramels, Melting Pot Candy, Oran Mor Artisan Mead, Black Market Toffee, Pithitude Mugs, Steamworks Meadery, Vintner’s Kitchen, Wild Roots Spirits and Vital Salts.

Larks Kitchen executive chef Franco Console and his team will prepare the Chocolate Makers’ Wine Dinner. The gastronomical soirée featuring five courses, each with its own wine pairing.

The festival is a way of promoting Ashland as a culinary destination and creating local awareness of what Ashland and the Rogue Valley have to offer, said Karolina Lavagnino, event chair and director of sales and marketing for Neuman Hotel Group, organizer of the festival.

“We want to showcase artisan chocolatiers; educate consumers about cacao sourcing, processing and chocolate-making; and feature other tastemakers whose products pair well with chocolate, such as wine, beer, spirits, spice rubs and breads,” she said.

Lavagnino said she enjoys working on projects that help put Ashland on the map for all it has to offer.

“It’s great to bring guests to Ashland to enjoy all things chocolate,” she said, “as well as our great small town, our wonderful outdoors, and our thriving food and wine scene,” she said.

Lavagnino has known many of the participating chocolatiers for more than 15 years.

“I’m excited to be getting everybody together again,” she said. “I look forward to welcoming them back, to hear their stories of dealing with the pandemic, about their successes of going online, and how COVID pushed them to do things in new ways.”

Because of pandemic restrictions, the 2021 festival went online entirely, with a twist to the gourmet wine dinner: a box of sweet and savory provisions was put together by the Larks Kitchen crew for a take-home celebration.

The 2022 festival will not be so boxed in by the pandemic, with things getting back to what feels almost normal. Pulling out all the stops will be part of the fun.