I first heard about Lillie Belle Chocolates when they were only available at a farmer’s market clear across the country. Everything sounded fabulous. Luckily, you can now buy their creative chocolates, caramels, truffles, and bars online.
While there are a number of things that make these chocolates noteworthy, an especially appealing one is how Jeff Shepherd uses organic fruit from his own farm. I sampled an assorted box that included some really excellent examples of the chocolatier’s art.
The Maker’s Mark Cup, filled with pecan butter, Maker’s Mark whiskey ganache, and topped with a large, super crunchy caramelized pecan was absolutely fabulous. The balance of bourbon, chocolate, and pecan was as good as it gets. I will be thinking about that little gem for some time.
Jeff’s Lavender Caramel sprinkled with Fleur de Sel entranced me with its chewy texture, floral notes, and salty edge.
The Lemon-Coconut Buttercream had a tart Meyer Lemon butter cream hand rolled in white chocolate and finished with toasted coconut. Another great textural expedition. Every bite sparkled with the lemon’s acidity.
Hazelnut Chew spoke to the nut and caramel lover in me. It was a perfect rendition of crunchy, chewy caramel covered in dark chocolate.
Jeff’s Strawberry Cordial filled with organic strawberry preserves was just the ticket to heighten my Spring frame of mind.
Marzipan Fig, with rum and spice poached black mission figs, wrapped in marzipan, dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in almonds, was a gustatory shape-shifter. First a bit of chewy fig, then a hint of rum, followed by sweet nutty almond paste, dark chocolate, and crunchy almonds. Jeff certainly doesn’t bore you. Each creation stands alone as a complete chocolate experience. There are others that I would love to try, like Peanut Butter Pattie, and their own farm grown Fresh Mint Ganache, but this was already an embarrassment of riches.
Jeff makes a dark bar called “Do Not Eat This Chocolate.” I would add a slew of exclamation points after that, as this is definitely the hottest chocolate I have ever tasted, by far. It contains Ghost Chile, Aji Amarillo, and Arbole. The tiniest bit assaults your taste buds, building heat from the front of your mouth to the back, and the intensity keeps on keeping on even after the chocolate has vanished. It’s a wild ride and only recommended for people who adore extreme foods. If the picture of a skull with fiery eyes isn’t enough to alert you to this bar’s intensity, Jeff has kindly added a stern caveat on the front of each wrapper that reads: “A full metal death chile and chocolate bitch slap. You have been warned!” I had a Mexican friend taste some. One small square lasted him the whole day. On reflection, I’m sure if you dole it out that way you get a fairly continuous endorphin rush from the mild discomfort (Jeff actually uses the word pain on the wrapper). I know chocolate has all sorts of mood-altering chemicals, but this rockets the whole affair into a gustatory-mind-body dimension at warp speed. The question is, would I seek it out? Yes. Most experiences in life are simply repetitions of past encounters. This bar is so vastly different it sets up its own neural pathways and fascinates every cell along the way.
Once your taste buds have calmed down, you might want to try Lillie Belle’s Ocumare 70% bean to bar chocolate, a supremely satisfying deep, rich, almost chewy, earthy chocolate with a hint of sophistication lingering with its slightly dry finish.
It may be hard to believe, but I’ve saved the wildest for last. Jeff sent me a small tub of his Smokey Blue Cheese truffle mixture, a combination of Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue Cheese, dark chocolate, buttery ganache, and finished with finely chopped almonds. The instructions said nuke for 10 seconds and spread on crackers. Well, I tried it straight, so I could get a sense of the Smokey Blue Cheese Truffle’s texture, and I was blown away. In the wrong hands this combination could be a complete disaster, but in Jeff’s it was novel and noteworthy. The edgy, dry piquancy of the cheese and the creaminess of both cheese and chocolate were sublime. Ingenious!
As someone who samples chocolates almost daily, I really appreciate the pretty paper cups Jeff uses to house his creations. Each white, fluted container was adorned with a purple flower. A far cry from the ubiquitous brown cups most chocolatiers use.