Call it the “hand of fate” or serendipity…sometimes plans fall perfectly into place in the most unexpected ways!
Lillie Belle Farms Handmade Chocolates was on my “short list” of chocolates since the very beginning stages of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project. When it proved difficult to locate their chocolate locally, I decided to substitute them with another “L” chocolate (check back later in the week for that bar!) Recently on Facebook, there was a funny exchange between Estelle Tracy of 37 Chocolates and David Menkes from LetterPress Chocolates as they joked about what might be featured for this particular letter. Being from the Los Angeles area, it would make sense for me to select LetterPress; but alas, I wanted to concentrate only on new-to-me bars! (Sorry 🙁 ) However, after reading David’s comments, my enthusiasm for Lillie Belle Farms was renewed…but I didn’t really want to deal with summertime shipping issues. Then, an unexpected opportunity presented itself when I discovered that a friend would soon be driving back to Southern California from Oregon! What would I do without supportive friends willing to act as “chocolate couriers” for me?! 🙂
So, that is the story about how it came to be that I could share this Limited Edition, Hand Crafted Stella Blue bar with you!
Initially, I assumed that this chocolate bar was named for one of the primary ingredients. It surprised me to discover that, like several of their other chocolate bars, Stella Blue was inspired by a Grateful Dead song. In fact, when you visit the Lillie Belle Farms website, you will find that the descriptions of many bars include a YouTube link to a Grateful Dead performance of their namesake.
As a rule, I generally avoid blue (or veined) cheeses because of their overwhelming pungent flavor and, whenever possible, I choose to indulge in dark chocolate…so what am I doing with a milk chocolate (50% cacao) that has been flavored with Rogue Creamery Blue Heaven powdered blue cheese?! All I can say is that while this flavor combination might not sound good on paper, keep an open mind – your taste buds will definitely thank you for taking a risk! Besides, who could resist the eye-catching, psychedelically colored packaging?
The outer packaging looks like a cross between an envelope and a box with corners that can be tucked in so that it stays closed. To me, it always feels like I’m unwrapping a special present when the chocolate bar is meticulously wrapped with shiny foil.
Inside the inner foil wrapper was a slender rectangle adorned with their company name and two flowers on either end. After reading about how Jeff Shepherd started Lillie Belle Farms, I wanted the flowers to be hibiscus or plumeria to honor his time living in Hawaii; but I believe that these are lilies, which echo the company name (which happens to be a combination of his daughter’s and wife’s names).
Unwrapping the gold foil, there was a faint tangy buttermilk aroma, but there wasn’t the telltale smell of blue cheese. Given my dislike of blue cheeses, I braced myself before biting into the chocolate chunk, but really there was no need for that! Blue Heaven is a proprietary blend of powdered Oregon Blue, Oregonzola, Crater Lake Blue + special reserve blues which imparts the pure essence of all the Rogue Creamy blue recipes combined while having a milder/dialed back intensity of flavor. Paired with naturally fruity Madagascar cacao beans, these ingredients produced a super creamy and smooth mouthfeel as well as a flavor rich in umami. Had this been a “blind tasting,” I would have said that cheese was a component, but I definitely wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint blue cheese.
While accolades are great (Jeff Shepherd was chosen as one of the inaugural top 10 chocolatiers in the United States by the Dessert Professional magazine in 2009), I really like this quote from the now-defunct CocoAroma magazine:
“Artists don’t really care if you think they’re good (although I’m sure compliments don’t hurt). I think what artists—especially fiercely individualistic artisans like Jeff who create truly original work—are really searching for is a connection, a shared experience, with their audience.”
Once you try their chocolates, you’ll agree with this line from another Grateful Dead song lyric which appears on the side of the outer packaging: “Life may be sweeter for this…”
To plan a visit to their factory or to learn more about their various chocolate delights, check out: http://www.lilliebellefarms.com/