Move to southern Oregon, buy a two-acre, defunct berry farm in need of lots of work and start a boutique, hand-made chocolate company of course.
First, you need to plant some fruit – gold raspberries, marionberries, boysenberries, purple raspberries, red raspberries, three varieties of strawberries, blueberries and four varieties of grapes – farm organically, make deals with a nearby sustainable-certified dairy, and source top-quality ingredients like organic chocolate couverture.
Then you start with amazing fruit preserves and work your way up to making chocolate truffles out of your home kitchen (legal in Oregon) and sell them at local farmers’ markets out of the back of your pickup truck. The rest is history, as they say.
Jeff Shepard’s organic certified Lillie Belle Farms (named after his wife and partner Belle and his daughter, Lillie) is situated at the entrance to the Applegate Valley region of Southern Oregon. Lillie Belle Chocolates can be found in over 300 stores nationwide, a retail operation in southern oregon and via their own retail website.
Today, the nationally-acclaimed, award-winning artisan chocolatier is master of a product line of more than 60 different confections that includes some of the best chocolates, caramels and toffees in America. He has critical acclaim from everyone, including the New York times, Gourmet, CBS Early Show, Wall Street Journal, wine Spectator and NBC Today Show, to name just a few. Lillie Belle Farms won eight gold and silver awards at the 2007 San Francisco Chocolate Salon, tying for the gold as Most Gifted Chocolatier their Smokey Blue Truffle took the gold New Product Award.
This isn’t your ordinary wine filled bonbon. Jeff’s philosophy is more about simplicity than showmanship. Don’t let that fool you. He is constantly pushing the taste envelope. You can taste the quality ingredients, his creativity and his attention to the artisan process in the Lavender Salt Caramels, Strawberry Balsamic Pâte de Fruit, the Spicy Cayenne Caramels, the flavored toffees (Cocoa Nib, Macadamia Nut, Pistachio and Spicy Pecan) and those Smokey Blue Truffles.
The most interesting fact for me is this bear of guy is a truly dedicated Deadhead and his chocolates have been on the tour buses of legends like Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Steely Dan and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. What better endorsement do you need?