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Sweet Sixteen: The Oregon Chocolate Festival is Growing Sweeter

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2019 Treat from Oregon Chocolate Festival. Photo courtesy of Neuman Hotel Group

The Oregon Chocolate Festival turns “sweet sixteen” this year, with a party to top them all on March 6 to 8 at the Ashland Hills Hotel and Suites.

For starters, attendees have an opening night choice of celebration. 

“Those who want a fancy culinary affair can go to the Wine Dinner (sponsored by Lille Belle Farms) and others who want more socializing and dancing can attend ‘Disco Inferno’ and enjoy wine and beer samples,” says Karolina Wyszynska Lavagnino, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Neuman Hotel Group and festival organizer.

The first-night option is not the only new happening this year. On Saturday and Sunday evening from 4 to 7 pm, there will be Jazz music at Luna “Chocolate Cafe,” Lavagnino explains. Because Jazz with chocolate is better than Jazz alone! Additionally, the children’s Scavenger Hunt will spill into downtown Ashland, meandering through local businesses and making it an epic hunt. “We keep adding layers and layers to the festival,” Lavagnino comments. 

Like a delicious chocolate cake! 

“Each year, there are more vendors and they are coming from beyond Oregon including California, Nevada, Utah, and Washington,” she adds. There are over 40 chocolatiers as vendors this year.

Being the sixteenth year, festival attendees are in search of unique flavors and surprises. Deena

Branson, owner of Branson’s Chocolates in Ashland, says she sells the “new and interesting” over the tried-and-true. Her first attendance at the festival was in 2007 and although Branson’s is known for their classics like truffles, bars and clusters, that is not what she sells the most at Southern Oregon’s Chocolapalooza. This year, Branson has a “new” chocolate she will be showing off and will offer a truffle-making class for budding chocolatiers on Sunday at her production location (1660 Siskiyou Boulevard) from 9 to 10 am. Anyone regardless of experience or age can attend. 

“One year we had a five-year old in class who had a blast making chocolate, while his Mom choose to watch and film him.” Everyone gets to bring home truffles they have created and enjoy recreating them at a later date.

The Oregon Chocolate Festival presents opportunities for festival-goers to put on their judging hats and taste cocoa-loco varieties. Both on Saturday and Sunday, from 11 am – 4 pm at the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites, vendors offer samples and friendly faces to explain how they make and prepare their sweets. 

But the actual judging is done by three professionals (they are so important that their names are being withheld until the actual event) who also are presenting workshops like “Around the World of Chocolate Tasting.” And what is even sweeter is that 10 percent of all festival ticket proceeds go to Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity.

There are definitely more than sixteen reasons to go to the festival. My choices for the sweetest ones? 

Experts come from around the area to judge and provide their expertise on what to look for when tasting chocolates.

Chocolate Product Competition, 10:30 am – 1:30 pm, Sat. March 7; Chocolate Product Competition Award Ceremony, 2:30 – 2:45 pm, Sat. March 7; Dessert Contest Judging, 11 am – 12:30 pm, Sunday, March 8; People’s Choice & Best in Show Award Ceremony, 2:45 – 3 pm, Sunday, March 8

There are so many vendors and not just Chocolatiers.

There are over 40 chocolatiers and many beyond chocolate vendors including Jem Organics, Seed Oil Company and Roxy Ann Winery, to name a few. 

There are amazing demonstrations on what to do with chocolate.

11 am to 4 pm, Sat. March 7 & Sun, March 8

The chocolate bar has come a long way since its introduction.

The first chocolate bar was invented by Cadbury in 1842, but many vendors at the Oregon Chocolate Festival have put their own spin on the chocolate bar. Ask Lillie Belle about their “Do Not Eat This” bar. And ask Deena Branson about chocolate trends like dairy-free and plant-based options.

Chocolate and alcohol and spas go together.

Chocolate & Wine Spa Party, Lithia Springs Resort, 4:30 – 6 pm, Sat. March 7

Chocolate can be good for your health.

Test out the research that ingredients like flavanoids are anti-inflammatory and antioxidants:

Charlie’s Chocolate 5K and 10K Run, Emigrant Lake Recreation Area, 9 am, Sunday


Oregon Chocolate Festival
Friday, March 6 through Sunday, March 8
Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites


Kevin and Deena Branson. Photo: Whitney Deberry


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