Top Pick Of The Week

December 4, 2007

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Lillie Belle Farms Chocolate

Beauteous bonbons, handmade by the artisans at Lillie Belle Farms. Photography by Dhanraj Emanuel.

WHAT IT IS: An award-winning Oregon artisan chocolatier with a broad offering of confections.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: The line, made with largely organic ingredients, focuses on fresh, original flavors. Many ingredients are grown on the chocolatier’s own organic-certified farm.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Everything is delicious, and there’s always something new and innovative.

Lillie Belle Farms:
The Belle Of Creative Chocolate

A few years ago, chef Jeff Shepherd stuck a toe into the chocolate business by selling four flavors of bonbons from the back of his car at farmers markets in southern Oregon. Today, the nationally-acclaimed, award-winning artisan chocolatier is master of a product line of more than 20 confections that includes some of the best chocolates, caramels and toffees in America—not to mention our favorite product from this year’s Fancy Food Show, the Smokey Blue Truffle (that’s a chocolate ganache and blue cheese truffle, and before you raise an eyebrow, everyone who tastes it wants to buy a box).

While the entire line is not certified organic, many of the ingredients, including the chocolate couverture and the fruits grown on Jeff’s two-acre organic farm, are. We formally certify that everything in this line is a must-try. We would practically hitchhike to Oregon for the Lavender Salt Caramels, the Spicy Cayenne Caramels, the flavored toffees (Cocoa Nib, Macadamia Nut, Pistachio and Spicy Pecan) and those Smokey Blue Truffles. Read the full review below.

THE NIBBLE does not sell the foods we review
or receive fees from manufacturers for recommending them.

Our recommendations are based purely on our opinion, after tasting thousands of products each year, that they represent the best in their respective categories.


More About Great Chocolate

Discover Chocolate - Clay Gordon The New Taste Of Chocolate - Maricel Presilla Chocolates & Confections - Peter Grewelling
Discover Chocolate: The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting, and Enjoying Fine Chocolate,
by Clay Gordon. A chocophile shares his enthusiasm for learning about the world of fine chocolate. Click here for more information or to purchase.
The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, by Maricel Presilla. A seminal book for learning about chocolate, from one of the most respected industry experts. Click here for more information or to purchase. Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner, by Peter P. Greweling. This is the book used at Culinary Institute of America. Maybe you’ll be the next Lillie Belle Farms. Click here for more information or to purchase.

Lillie Belle Farms: The Belle Of Creative Chocolate



Jeff Shepherd used to be a chef, then the owner of a B&B. Later he bought a berry farm and one day, on a whim, he made some raspberry truffles for himself. We’re grateful. Just so many people can taste the cuisine of any one chef or visit a B&B. But a top chocolatier can ship his confections all over the world. Business is so good these days, we can no longer get the delectable raspberry jam—all the berries are needed for the chocolates.

After meeting his wife in Hawaii (he there from L.A., she from Oregon) and raising a young daughter, the Shepherd family traveled in Europe before moving to wife Belle’s home state in 2001, purchasing a two-acre farm in the Rogue Valley (Lillie Belle Farms is named after Belle, daughter Lillie and of course, the farm). Jeff and Belle oversee the organic-certified farm, growing the blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries, strawberries, and other fruits and herbs that are used in their bonbons (the company uses the alternative spelling, bon bons).

Jeff blends top-quality organic couverture from Central and South America with organic Madagascar vanilla to make his chocolates, and incorporates fine local ingredients—cream and butter from a nearby sustainable-certified dairy, and Oregon hazelnuts, for example. But most importantly, Jeff adds plenty of imagination. Whenever we see him, a few times a year at a food show, there’s always something new, and it’s always one of the best things we’ll have at the show.

Others in addition to THE NIBBLE have noticed, too. Lillie Belle Farms won eight gold and silver awards at the 2007 San Francisco Chocolate Salon, tying for the gold as Most Gifted Chocolatier with last month’s Top Pick Amano Artisan Chocolate and an earlier NIBBLE recommendation, Charles Chocolates. The Smokey Blue Truffle took the gold New Product Award.

Belle's Berries

Belle Of The Berries is the name of the assortment of “berry cordials,” filled with organic fruits grown at Lillie Belle Farms.

The company now sells to more than 300 stores nationwide, in addition to a thriving online business.

Artisan Chocolate Bonbons

In the artisan tradition, the chocolates are completely handmade. Jeff thinks that he likes do keep things simple. Perhaps his bonbons do convey that idea, focusing on just one flavor note. In other words, he isn’t going to give you the black pepper cinnamon orange ganache. But will give each one to you separately: The mixed assortment contains Black Pepper Ganache, Chipotle Ganache, Cinnamon Ganache, Orange Ganache, Nepalese Coffee Bean Ganache, Fresh Mint Ganache (from the farm’s own organic mint), Raspberry Ganache (from the farm’s organic berry crop), Single Origin Ganache (from organic Costa Rican cacao) and Strawberry Balsamic Pâte de Fruit (more of the farm fruit, enrobed in chocolate—and, well, this one is just a bit more complex, with a hint of balsamic vinegar over a black pepper-infused milk chocolate ganache married to the pâte de fruit).

Within the “simplicity” is a carefully-blended 68% semisweet couverture—he won’t say exactly what, but combines a single-origin, organic dark chocolate from Costa Rica with another from the Dominican Republic into his “signature blend.” It’s smokey, which is especially evident against the berry cordial bonbons (more about those in a moment). Move beyond the charming and popular bonbons to the caramels and toffees and things grow complex enough to satisfy the most demanding palate.

Some of the 12-piece mixed box of ganaches and bonbons.

If you like fruit cremes, go for Belle of the Berries bonbons. They aren’t cremes but crushed fruit in syrup—the season’s harvest from Lillie Belle Farms—strawberries, raspberries and blackberries against the smokey couverture. Jeff calls them “cordials.” There’s no liqueur inside; we couldn’t help thinking that we wouldn’t mind if Jeff did include a bit in his next series of product developments. But we love them as they are.

There are seasonal choices—a delectable Pumpkin Spice Caramel for fall, for example, was in our mixed assortment. We could have eaten an entire box of them (they are currently for sale on the website).


Lavender Salt Caramels

If you read our Best Salt Caramels article, you’ll have seen these before—and you’ll know that they’re one of our favorites.

Salt caramels are hot right now—you can walk into almost any artisan chocolate shop and find them. But you can’t find lavender salt caramels, and this is an example of why Lillie Belle Farms is so special—there’s always a slightly different take on things. Jeff infuses the caramel with lavender, and it makes all the difference in the world. These are positively addictive. But the good news is, they’re very chewy so it takes a long time to savor one. Consider serving them with after-dinner coffee. Or at a tea party.

Salt Caramels
Sublime Lavender Salt Caramels.

Cayenne Caramels & Flavored Toffees

Cayenne Caramels are a spicy and sensual treat (see the photo below). A semi-liquid center is packed with full cayenne pepper flavor and encased in a dark organic chocolate shell. Take a bite, and the buttery caramel oozes onto your palate. It tastes great...and then the heat kicks in. What a delightful little treat...what a sensational caramel. It’s a totally different experience and a wonderful contrast to the chewy salt caramel. Jeff is very proud that these hot little seductresses won the Grand Prize at the 2008 Scovie Awards at the the National Fiery Foods Show, sponsored by Fiery Food magazine, besting 783 other chile-related products in all categories. (They also won the Sweet Heat category. The Scovies are named after Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacologist who devised the measuring system for comparing the heat levels of chiles. Read more about Scoville Units and the heat levels of different chiles.)

There are four chocolate-enrobed toffees, each packing their signature goodies inside the toffee that are sprinkled on top as well.

  • Cocoa Nib Toffee. Gettin’ nibby with it, perky chocolate-covered cacao nibs look tempting on top of the toffee.
  • Macadamia Nut Toffee. An homage to the Shepherds’ former home state of Hawaii, chopped Big Island macadamia nuts are embedded in the toffee and sprinkled on top. Rich nuts, rich toffee, rich experience.
  • Spicy Pecan Toffee. We’re crazy about this toffee—we love the heat that the cayenne generates, played against the buttery richness of the toffee. The toasted pecans add the right amount of flavor and crunch. Made with organic pecans and chipotle chiles. This makes a great gift for a spice lover, along with the Cayenne Caramels.
  • Pistachio Toffee. As pistachio fans, we couldn’t be happier with this one. Made with organic pistachios.
Spicy Caramels
Spicy Cayenne Caramels.

Smokey Blue Truffles

Our number-one favorite product at the 2007 Summer Fancy Food Show, Smokey Blue Truffles show just how good a chocolatier Jeff Shepherd is. It only took him 20 tries to get the recipe right. You try combining blue cheese and ganache—in the wrong hands, it isn’t pretty. Here: brilliant!

Rogue Creamery, the great cheesemakers, have won international awards for their Smoked Oregon Blue Cheese and other brilliant blues. Smokey Blue Cheese was a NIBBLE recommendation in 2005, the year it was named Best New Product at the Fancy Food Show. Jeff’s neighbors from the Rogue Creamery first suggested the marriage of Smokey Blue and Jeff’s chocolate. Chocolate and cheese combinations are not a new idea—not only is there chocolate cheesecake, but our own chocolate goat cheese truffles have been a hit for decades (and although we developed our own recipe, we’re certain that creative French cooks have been combining their chocolate and chèvre for more than a century).

But we hadn’t personally come across a blue cheese and chocolate combination until we tasted the Lillie Belle Farms truffles in June. Smokey Blue Cheese is deftly integrated into a milk chocolate ganache, and the truffles are rolled in chopped, toasted almonds.

It took Jeff about 20 tries to find the recipe that pleased him and the Rogue Creamery folks. Along the way, he changed from a dark chocolate ganache to a milk chocolate ganache, and from hazelnuts to almonds. The result is a perfect balance of flavors: tangy, smokey, creamy, milky blue cheese and sweet, chocolaty, creamy, milky ganache. The toasted almond complements both the chocolate and the cheese (after all,  you’d pair almonds with either ingredient). Truly a sublime experience. Serve them with the cheese course, as a small, elegant “first” dessert course or just by themselves.

(By the way, if the ganache in the photo looks like dark chocolate to you—as it does to us—Jeff says that combining the blue cheese with the milk chocolate turns the ganache a darker color.)

Smokey Blue Truffles
Glorious Smokey Blue Truffles.

Last month, Lillie Belle Farms moved to larger quarters, right next door to Rogue Creamery—their third move in five years, as more of America discovers the belle of Rogue Valley confections. While many foodies head to the Willamette Valley, northwest Oregon’s famous wine region, there are wineries to be found in southern Oregon, along with orchards, there’s good specialty food in Rogue Valley and southern Oregon (and a Shakespeare festival in the summer). Plan to visit Cary’s Of Oregon for toffee; Dagoba Chocolate for a vast selection of organic chocolate bars, cocoas and baking chocolate; Gary West smoked meats (the very best jerky); Rogue Spirits distillery and Pete’s Gourmet Confections (artisan marshmallows and other confections). But for Lillie Belle Farms and Rogue Creamery, you only have to drive and park once!

—Karen Hochman

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to lovers of fine chocolate, and to those who need to give gifts to them.

Artisan Chocolates, Caramels, Toffees, Truffles
& Other Confections

  • Cayenne Caramels
    8 Pieces
  • 12-Piece Assortment
    Belle Of The Berries (Berry Cordials)
    Custom Selection (Your Favorites)
    Ganache Only
    Mixed Ganaches & Bon Bons
    Single Origin Costa Rican Truffles
    $24.00 To $26.00
  • 24-Piece Mixed Ganaches & Bon Bons
  • Smokey Blue Truffles
    5 Truffles
  • Toffee
    Cocoa Nib, Macadamia Nut, Pistachio,
    Spicy Pecan
  • Other Products On Website

Purchase online at

Lillie Belle Farms
From top clockwise: 12-Piece Assortment, Cayenne Caramels, Lavender Salt Caramels, 4-Piece Belle Of The Berries and Smokey Blue Truffles.

Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change. Shipping is additional.

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