On the Road With Oregon Bounty Day 4: A World of Pure Imagination
I learned everything I need to know about life from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” It’s all there: have a passion for what you do, set clear boundaries with consequences for your children, respect karma. The most important lesson though is that food can be filled with magic and wonder.
I met Willy Wonka today. He’s alive and well at a place called Lillie Belle Farms in Central Point, just north of Medford. It’s just a five-minute diversion off I-5 to a world of pure imagination.
Jeff Shepherd doesn’t wear a purple velvet jacket, but the Wonka spirit is surely there. At first glance you probably wouldn’t pick this big bearded and pony-tailed guy out of a line-up of candy makers as the artisan who crafts delicate, creative, wonderful handmade chocolates. But, when you walk into Jeff’s small chocolate factory/retail shop and see the spotlighted portrait of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, you know you’re in for a special journey.
Jeff started Lillie Belle Farms a few years back, after he bought a run-down two-acre organic berry farm here in Southern Oregon and realized he’d have to do something with all of those raspberries.
He began by making a few berry truffles, which he sold at various farmers markets. They were a hit, people asked for more, and the rest, they say, is chocolate history. Jeff now produces more than 60 types of individual confections, and is constantly dreaming up new and different ways to expand on a craft that’s been around for centuries.
These are not your run-of-the-mill organic chocolates. In the rich wooden cases of his shop you’ll find such inventions as lavender and sea salt caramel, smoky bleu cheese truffle, and 74% cocoa gem called the Dark Star. His chocolate comes from Madagascar, but the rest of the ingredients – Rogue Creamery bleu cheese, berries from his own farm, pears from the surrounding valleys – are a litany of Oregon’s Bounty. Jeff’s philosophy? “I like to make teeny tiny things with my hands that make people happy.”
In addition to his small retail operation, Jeff sells his chocolates to over 300 stores and online. Feel like a fix? Check out the Lillie Belle website and see for yourself what someone with a little chocolate and a lot of passion and imagination can do.
Lillie Belle Farms is located right next door to the Rogue Creamery, a nice synergy of two artisans who are turning the world’s attention on Southern Oregon as a culinary destination. Throw in the wineries of the surrounding Rogue, Applegate and Umpqua Valleys and you have the full meal deal.
The Oregon Bounty website is full of culinary attractions like Lillie Belle Farms… places where you can meet the people who make Oregon taste so good. Check back tomorrow when I meet another of Oregon’s food artisans: a goat cheese maker in Central Oregon. Cheers!