Indulge your sweet tooth at this year’s ChocolateFest

From Jan. 22 to 24, the delectable festival, ChocolateFest, will return to the Portland Convention Center for its 11th year. The fest will feature dozens of chocolatiers from the Pacific Northwest and all over the country.

Not only are attendees invited to sample a variety of chocolates, but they will also have the opportunity to be educated about the cacao tree and how chocolate is produced, from the bean to the finished product.

The event, which is a fundraiser for the World Forestry Center, started at the WFC’s campus in Washington Park. However, it was moved to the Convention Center after five years in order to accommodate the 9,000 to 10,000 expected visitors. This year, they are offering a new level of indulgence for guests that want more.

“We are selling VIP tickets to those 21 and older that provides access to the VIP lounge,” said Jennifer Kent, producer of ChocolateFest.

Kent said the VIP lounge will have complimentary wine, savory snacks, chocolate cupcakes and a nice place to relax and digest.

Many of the scheduled exhibitors are small-scale, artisan producers, like Elyce Zahn of CocoTutti. Zahn is excited about the festival because of the variety of chocolatiers and their interpretation of what chocolate can be.

“I look at chocolate as not just something delicious, but also as a material,” Zahn said. “The way that other artists use material, I enjoy using chocolate.”

All of Zahn’s chocolates are handcrafted, without the use of machines, and boxed to order; they also create their own recipes from scratch. There is an extensive multi-step process with sometimes as many as 60 iterations before the chocolates go to market.

Randi Holm of Holm Made Toffee Co. shares a similar passion for this work. For Holm, it’s a family business; she joined her mother-in-law, Donna Holm, who has been making toffee for over 30 years as a hobby. After her mother-in-law retired from a teaching career, the hobby grew slowly into a business and now their toffee is available in over 50 stores and online.

“We personally hand-craft each batch from start to finish, and nothing reaches the shelves unless it is the same quality that we would serve friends and family,” Holm said.

The Holms attend many farmers markets and festivals, but ChocolateFest is one of their favorites.

“We love that it is an event dedicated solely to one of the main ingredients we use in our product: chocolate,” Randi Holm said. “That translates to meeting lots of other like-minded vendors and customers. Everyone at the festival shares the passion of good confections and we’ve met and chatted with some amazing folks over the years.”

While the festival will welcome back many veteran producers, there will be new ones too, like Lura Longmire, the owner and founder of Luralu’s Dark Bark. She also creates her own recipes and developed her chocolate bark as a healthy, all-natural alternative to other candy.

“I hope to educate people about my brand and how to live a healthier lifestyle without sacrificing sweets,” Longmire said.

Other chocolatiers boast vegan, gluten-free and fair-trade chocolates. With dozens of chocolatiers and 17 wineries and distilleries present, in addition to presentations and demonstrations, ChocolateFest promises to be an educational, artistic and delicious weekend.