I am judging & tasting chocolate in Ashland, Oregon. Chocolate. Yep. Judging & tasting chocolate. It is the pied piper of the calorie wagon. Tasting chocolate is not a one size fits all deal. I take this assignment with the seriousness of a policeman writing a traffic ticket. I’m willing to sacrifice to help others.
We’re taking the 5-hour drive up to Ashland. Three glorious days filled with everything chocolate. From the pairing dinner to a hands-on Chocolate Making Workshop this festival has you covered. There are also sampling opportunities from the chocolate makers themselves.
Braving some rainy, snowy weather, we arrive in Ashland in the early afternoon. Landing at the epicenter of the event, I check into the hip and laid back Ashland Hills Hotel. It’s just on the outskirts of town so away from the hustle and bustle of this quiet town. Things heat up every May – October with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival so it may not be quite as laid back but for this visit it is chill. I love this hotel. It’s shabby chic meets tree hugger. It’s an era preserved with Palm Desert funk. Opening the doors to my accommodations, I am swept away by the warm welcome of the Champagne Suite.
The Retro bathroom (think 70’s pink mauve fixtures) has a circular sunken soaking tub for two. It’s surrounded by gauzy curtains. Not to be outdone, the dining room and living room are plush with gold chrome and zebra highlights. And of course, there is a bottle of bubbly chilling.
Later, I prep myself for the hard work of judging the festival and have no idea what to expect. Two other judges are working with me, and we’ve got a list of categories and criteria to consider. I head to our secret judging & tasting room where we sample until we select the winners.
I walk into the conference room as the chocolate samples begin to arrive. I realize I am hungry. Hungry for chocolate!
The variety is eye-popping. We receive one piece each of the chocolate for each category. I can see there are many samples, and I am completely confident we can cover all the territory, no problem.
From the best truffles to the best mix of chocolate & candy, I am sure it will be easy to recognize the winners. Boy, was I wrong!
There is something that happens in at a point of having to eat chocolate for the purposes of choosing an outcome. You see it through to the end. After we’ve scored the first four categories, I am starting to feel like I’ve had my fill. Delicious, imaginative, mouthwatering chocolate. Could this be? I am running out of steam. I never thought judging & tasting chocolate would get the best of me.
Gathering the last of my reserves I power through. Thinking to myself, “I may never be able to eat chocolate again.” It’s all so amazing, and there is so much of it, that the sugar buzz is getting to my stomach. In the end, I am thankful for the opportunity to take part and happy to have had a hand in choosing the winners. While all tastes had positive attributes, below are the winners who stood out from the rest.
And speaking of wine, there is also an opportunity to taste some tasty Oregon wine.
Festivals are always great, but knowing the why behind the event and the interests surrounding it is always intriguing. Founded by the Karolina Wyszynska Lavagnino Sales and Marketing Director for the Neuman Hotels, the Oregon Chocolate Festival is a draw for chocolate lovers near and far.
Why & when did you start the Chocolate Festival?
My initial idea behind creating the Oregon Chocolate Festival was to create an annual event that attracts many people in a slower season. March is a time without any major holidays (Feb has Valentine’s, April usually has Easter etc) to boost traffic and hotel occupancy at Ashland Springs Hotel. What else can attract the same way young, old, women and men, from here and there! Chocolate! And so the concept was created. The first year we had only 14 vendors, and now we cap at 50. It has become a recognizable Southern Oregon destination foodie event. ~ Karolina
To the critics who say pairing wine with chocolate doesn’t work… My palate says otherwise. ~The Wine Siren
* The Oregon Chocolate Festival is partnered with the Children’s Miracle Network and will provide 10% of the festival proceeds in 2017 to the Asante’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) located at the Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center.
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