Have 'fun' with your chocolate

Have 'fun' with your chocolate

The role of wacky confectioner is one that Jeff Shepherd clearly relishes.

Music-festival posters mingle with sarcastic mottoes and ironic kitsch in the kitchen of Shepherd's Lillie Belle Farms, where the founder and chocolatier sports Hawaiian shirts.

More of Shepherd's playful persona will be up for public consumption — along with his colorful chocolates — for Lillie Belle's 10th anniversary. Shepherd says he's planning several events to connect with customers and cocoa lovers locally.

A class set for Thursday, Feb. 6, at Ashland Food Co-op comes on the heels of a Portland demonstration pairing chocolate and beer. And Lillie Belle will be represented, as always, at the Oregon Chocolate Festival in March.

"I show 'em that Lillie Belle and what we do is fun," says Shepherd. "I'm all about fun."

Shepherd's February class arose from positive feedback after a November demonstration at the Co-op that Shepherd hosted in conjunction with the Ashland Culinary Festival. Bay leaf-infused ganache was among the highlights.

"Their eyebrows went up," recalls Shepherd.

"People went crazy," says Mary Shaw, culinary education specialist for the Co-op.

"He just spread chocolate all over our counter," she says. "Anybody but Jeff, we'd have been grumbling about it."

Calling the Co-op's kitchen "perfect" for his purposes, Shepherd will present chocolate from Peru, Madagascar and Venezuela for tasting tempered with a discussion of how geography, climate, soil and other growing conditions specific to the cacao bean's origins — "terroir" — influences flavor. A hands-on truffle-making session will follow, and each student will take home chocolates.

"Chocolate is subjective," says Shepherd. "Some like fruity; some like earthy. Some people want to touch it."

"Hand-made" is no mere marketing buzzword at Lillie Belle, which still pours its chocolate bars and wraps all its products by hand, says Shepherd. The Central Point company at 211 N. Front St. had its most profitable year in 2013 and brought home yet more awards from international chocolate competitions. Lillie Belle's lavender caramel, topped with flakes of fleur de sel — fine sea salt — won a silver medal in the "dark chocolate caramel" category at October's International Chocolate Awards in London.

The win, says Shepherd, was a surprise, although this sweet so wowed Martha Stewart in 2005 that she ordered 250 pounds for her corporate Christmas gift. The lavender caramel has remained Lillie Belle's most popular item, with 10,000 pieces manufactured each week.

Perennially in pursuit of new flavor combinations — think Rogue Creamery blue cheese and chocolate — Shepherd comes out with at least half a dozen every year, most available only in the Central Point store. Many, such as eggnog truffles, are sold seasonally.

"I'm always running out of the kitchen with something I've just made a dozen of," says Shepherd.

A burnt-caramel dark-chocolate truffle is ready for Valentine's Day, he says. And customers soon can look for a line of Lillie Belle nuts butters and spreadable chocolate, inspired by its Smokey Blue Cheese Chocolate Truffle Spread.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email

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