Nearly every March since we moved to Southern Oregon over 11 years ago, my husband and I have attended two events that celebrate two of my favorite foods: chocolate and cheese. Add in the fact that vendors at these festivals also offer just about everything under the sun that could be served with these two life-affirming edibles (think wine and beer, among others), and what’s not to like? Well, the fact that thousands of other people apparently think like I do and the venues can get uncomfortably crowded is a tad inconvenient, but . . . CHOCOLATE and CHEESE!!!
Last year the Chocolate Fest was held as usual over the first weekend in March, but we opted out (I can’t recall now whether it was due to growing COVID concerns or just a desire to skip the crowds), but only a week later the Cheese Festival, always held the second weekend of the month, was postponed just a few days before it was set to open. The organizers then set a new date for the third weekend in June, because didn’t we all at the start of it think it would be safe to gather in a few months? Right. Well, come June it was officially cancelled for the year, but organizers of both events decided the show must go on this year, and they got very creative in making that happen.
This year for the low, low price of just $15, one gains access to the 2021 Oregon Chocolate Festival, a virtual event that includes 22 videos ranging in length from a few minutes to nearly an hour and featuring cooking demos, chocolate plantation and factory tours, wine and chocolate pairing seminars and mixology lessons, the history of chocolate and so much more. These just became available yesterday, so I’ve watched only about half a dozen so far, but the good news is these videos will be available for at least a month (not clear yet how long they’ll remain up) and can be viewed as often as one likes. Recipes can be downloaded for all the cooking and mixology classes, and with the videos right there to guide you along, how could you not produce these delicious goodies perfectly yourself?
I’ve already watched Culinary Institute of America (the Napa Valley outpost) pastry chef instructors Angela Salvatore and Stephen Durfee prepare a Caramelized White Chocolate Panna Cotta and a Chocolate Torte, respectively, and am ready to try them out. Their demos were sprinkled with great tips and techniques, and after binge-watching multiple seasons of The Great British Baking Show this winter, I’m ready to tackle that mirror glaze on the chocolate torte!
Taking the place of the traditional Chocolate Maker’s Wine Dinner is a Chocolate Maker’s Sweet & Savory Provision Box from local Lark’s Restaurant, providing all the fixin’s for a dine-at-home feast, available to local residents. Included are a bottle of Merlot from a local winery, wine glasses, salad and a duck confit main course, recipes and ingredients for two desserts, an award-winning chocolate bar from Portland’s Wildwood Chocolate and a chocolate brownie and sea salt tartlet. (I really dig the ratio of desserts to main course, there.) I was all ready to plunk down the $75 for the meal for two, but it had already been sold out by the time I heard about it. The same was true for the $23 per-person Chocolate Brunch Take & Bake (house-made Italian sausage and bacon egg bake, blue cheese scalloped potatoes, Oregon Waldorf salad, chocolate chunk banana bread and a triple chocolate mousse torte — death by cholesterol but worth every calorie!) — darn!
I’m so pleased that the organizers of the Oregon Chocolate Festival have found such an entertaining and educational way to continue their mission virtually. While I miss the opportunity to visit with a host of chocolatiers and sample their wares, I appreciate being able to access all the information and recipes the videos offer. The in-person events were very limited in the number of people who could sit in on the demos and seminars, so the online version is a boon. I certainly don’t have to fight the crowds, either, and I can access the videos on my own schedule. It’s nice to know, too, that 10 percent of the proceeds from the ticket sales goes to Southern Oregon Habitat for Humanity and its plans to help the thousands who lost their homes in the Almeda fire which tore through communities here last September.
Additionally, the virtual event opens up the experience to, literally, the whole world. The only thing distant viewers will miss out on is a curated chocolate box made available to local residents who purchased the festival pass. I’m heading to Ashland this afternoon to pick up mine, so I’ll get to do a little chocolate sampling, after all!
— Patty Vanikiotis, associate editor/copy editor
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