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Oregon Chocolate Festival arrives ... with a twist

For more than a decade, the Chocolate Maker’s Wine Dinner has been the hot ticket at the annual Oregon Chocolate Festival in Ashland.

The dinner is off this year, but the festival is offering some creative and tasty alternative experiences during its virtual festival beginning March 5, including a worthy substitute for the banquet.

Organizers were determined not to let the dinner tradition disappear entirely from the 2021 festival, so they put it in a box for a take-home celebration.

“This year, we’re turning our popular event into a Chocolate Maker’s Sweet & Savory Provisions Box from Larks Restaurant,” said Karolina Lavagnino, spokesperson for Neuman Hotel Group, organizer of the annual event.

The boxes can be picked up Friday or Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Larks Restaurant in the Ashland Springs Hotel, 212 E. Main St. A box, which serves two people, sells for $75 and includes free access to the virtual festival. Each box includes:

  • Bottle of RoxyAnn Winery merlot with two stemless festival wine glasses.
  • Meal kit that includes Rise Up! rosemary ciabatta bread; salad of organic field greens, roasted farm vegetables, dried cranberries, cocoa-dusted hazelnuts and sherry vinaigrette; and orange- and cocoa nib-spiced duck leg confit.
  • Recipe and ingredients for Maranatha peanut butter chocolate bars.
  • Recipe and ingredients for double chocolate pistachio cardamom cookies
  • Wildwood chocolate bar, winner of “Best Chocolatier and Confectioner in America” by the International Chocolate Salon and “Best in Show” at the 2020 Oregon Chocolate Festival.
  • Chocolate brownie and Tahitian fleur de sel tartlets.

“People can dig into the sweet and savory contents of the box, try new recipes, and watch online demos and presentations in the comfort of their homes,” Lavagnino said.

A festival pass is $15 for those not purchasing a provisions box. Access begins March 5, but people can watch the online programming at their own pace any time after.

“The first 100 local virtual pass buyers will receive a free festival chocolate box filled with curated sample-size chocolates,” Lavagnino said.

Partnering with Habitat for Humanity, the festival will donate 10% of the proceeds from festival pass sales to support Habitat’s efforts to help families displaced by the Almeda fire.

The online content will include presentations by chocolatiers, food artisans, mixologists, sommeliers and pastry chefs baking with chocolate; as well as a tour of a Maui-based cacao farm with consultant Daniel O’Doherty, and a program by food author Megan Giller, founder and CEO of Chocolate Noise, on the role of women in the history of chocolate.

“We are continuing to add to the lineup,” Lavagnino said. “People can check our website for more information and updates at oregonchocolatefestival.com.”

A sampling of online events:

  • Mission Chocolate, Sao Paulo, Brazil, with Arcelia Gallardo; demos of how to make traditional chocolate beverages enjoyed for centuries in Central and South America.
  • Rogue Creamery’s Cheese + Chocolates Pairing Class, conducted by a Rogue cheese expert and Jeff Shepherd, chocolatier of Lillie Belle Farms.
  • Chocolate Torte Demo, with pastry chef Stephen Durfee, instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Graystone, California.
  • Interview with Ray Major, a master chocolate maker with 44 years of experience with several world chocolate brands.
  • Chocolate Craft Cocktails with mixologists Amber Shannon and Amber Gonzales.
  • Wine and Chocolate Pairing with Molly Shaughnessy, certified sommelier.

Out-of-town visitors and locals who want a break from being stuck at home are being offered special packages at Neuman Group’s Ashland hotels — A Chocolate Escape overnight at Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites, and a Chocolate Dreams overnight at Ashland Springs Hotel. Both packages include food, festival merchandise, access pass and, of course, chocolate. More information about the packages, good only March 5 or 6, can be found on the festival website.

The 17th annual festival will continue the tradition of a weekend brunch with chocolate. This year, however, it will be a take-and-bake version which can be picked up the weekend of the festival at Ashland Hills’ Luna Café, 2525 Ashland St.

The brunch menu includes chocolate chunk banana bread, Oregon Waldorf salad, a baked Italian sausage, bacon and egg dish, blue cheese scalloped potatoes, triple chocolate mousse torte, for $23 per person, gratuity included. Champagne and martini add-ons are available.

With life still complicated by the pandemic, Lavagnino believes that by “pulling out all the stops,” the annual Oregon Chocolate Festival will put locals and visitors in a celebratory mood and help them forget about COVID for a while.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

The Oregon Chocolate Festival is a virtual event this year, but you can take part by reserving specially prepared meals.