Love Bucket Baking Co. will have nine varieties of its chocolate-filled and -covered shortbread 'lovies' available for sampling at the chocolate expo in the Ashland Springs Hotel. - Photo by Tyler Maddox

All things cocoa

One bite of Denise Padgett's ganache-filled, chocolate-covered cookies, and she's as good as sold you a dozen.

"Once you taste it, we're usually able to make a sale," the chocolatier says.

Last year, Padgett, owner of Love Bucket Baking Co. in Grants Pass, and her daughter, Leah Dancer, won Best in Show at the Oregon Chocolate Festival for their "lemon lovie" — a small shortbread cookie filled with a lemon-infused chocolate ganache and dipped in white chocolate.

"We're not a true truffle, and we're more than a cookie, so we're trying to create a niche for ourselves in the chocolate world," Padgett says.

Padgett and Dancer, along with more than 50 other vendors, will offer their cocoa creations at the eighth annual Oregon Chocolate Festival Friday through Sunday, March 2-4, in Ashland.

The chocolate extravaganza revolves around the exposition, open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 3-4, at Ashland Springs Hotel, 212 E. Main St.

Chocolatiers from all over the Pacific Northwest will serve samples of hand-rolled truffles, drinking chocolates, toffee, chocolate-cheese spreads, chocolate-covered bacon, chocolate body products and more. Southern Oregon winemakers will be on hand to suggest a pinot, merlot or zinfandel to pair with chocolate.

At this year's festival, Padgett will have nine varieties of lovies available for tasting, including a toasted hazelnut-studded shortbread filled with a hazelnut-infused chocolate ganache and dipped in dark chocolate.

"It's not too sweet, so you can eat two," Padgett jokes.

Clover Earl, co-owner of Sipping Dreams in Eugene, will provide samples of her European-style drinking chocolate, made with 72 percent dark chocolate.

"It's a very rich, decadent and velvety drink, and it's meant to be sipped in 3 to 4 ounces because it's so rich," Earl says. "It's a sipping drink, not a gulping drink."

Other chocolate-themed events will happen throughout the weekend in Ashland.

Downtown galleries will feature a variety of chocolate treats along with works by local artists from 5 to 8 p.m. during the First Friday art walk.

Oregon Cabaret Theatre will present "Chocolate Confessions," a one-woman musical comedy, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 3, at the theater, on the corner of Hargadine and First streets. Tickets cost $5 and are available at the box office or by calling 541-488-2902.

ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum will present a screening of the original "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" at 4 p.m. Saturday. The museum also will host an interactive and educational presentation, "The Science of Chocolate: From the Farm to You," at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Of course, chocolate tastings will be available. Museum admission fees apply.

New this year are beer-and-chocolate pairings at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Palm Room of Ashland Springs Hotel. Tickets are $5.

Several downtown businesses, as well as Oregon Shakespeare Festival, will grant discounts to patrons who mention "chocolate."

For a comprehensive schedule of events, including workshops and presentations, see www.ashlandspringshotel.com/12-or-chocolate-schedule.php.

A one-day pass to the festival is $20 and includes all tastings, wine and seminars at Ashland Springs Hotel. Additional pricing applies to some activities. Call 541-488-1700.

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