The Rogue Valley's sacred cacao

CENTRAL POINT — Jeff Shepherd has developed an intriguing line of chocolates and displayed a masterful marketing touch in the seven years since he started making truffles in his home kitchen outside Jacksonville.

His product, manufactured in Central Point, is available virtually nationwide and his craftsmanship has gained acclaim.

Now, Lillie Belle Farms Handmade Chocolates has been named one of the top 10 North American-based chocolatiers by Dessert Professional magazine.

"This is like industry validation and recognition from your peers," Shepherd said. "When I started seven years ago, I knew who a lot of these guys were."

The trade magazine selected artisans whose confectionery craft exemplifies the use of chocolate and elevated the chocolate industry.

The chocolatiers will be honored at the 12th annual New York Chocolate Show Oct. 30 and will be featured in the December issue of Dessert Professional.

The 10 chocolatiers, Dessert Professional said, have "taken a different path to cacao success."

"It's interesting that a lot of these guys have been at it a long time," Shepherd said. "Some were professionally trained high-end pastry chefs or went to school and learned from the masters. I'm the one who taught himself how to do it."

Recently, Lillie Belle won first place for its "Do Not Eat This Chocolate Bar" in the 2010 Zest Fest in Fort Worth, Texas, in the Best Chocolate category.

"The contest probably had 1,200 products in 30 categories," Shepherd said. "I don't know how many chocolates were entered. We weren't trying to win a contest when we made it; our goal is to make the best chocolates we can every day."

Lillie Belle's chocolates reach every corner of the country thanks to Internet orders, but some varieties found only at the Central Point factory are best eaten quickly.

"We've developed a very good line of chocolates that do have a shelf life," Shepherd said. "The bars and caramels have a great shelf life. They can travel and sit on a store shelf for a month and it's OK. The Lavender Sea Salt Caramels by nature of what they are last longer. But the Smokey Blue Cheese Truffles don't last more than 30 days in a refrigerator."

Once the package is opened, he said with a grin. "It'll be gone in five minutes."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com.

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