Forget Voodoo Donuts – voodoo bunnies are the new chocolates of the apocalypse and they've already gone viral.
The chocolate bunnies are available in Medford, southern Oregon, and they're horrible.
Made by chocolatier Jeff Shepherd of Lillie Belle chocolates, the bunnies are a rare treat. Produced twice a year in his tiny kitchen staffed by a handful of people, they're so popular they have their own wait list.
"They went viral a few years ago, and that's all I did," Shepherd laughs. Standing around ten centimetres high, it takes four or five hours to make 12 to 15 of the blood-spattered, vertebrae-exposed bunnies that are only sold at Halloween and Easter.
"We averaged about three per day in our store and then they wound up on Pinterest and Twitter and the demand became so great I stopped putting them on our website.
"They are very detailed and I personally make each one. Because I treat them a piece of art I didn't want want to mass produce them," he explains.
The idea came about after creating thousands of perfectly cute floppy eared bunnies, some of which end up with defects. An employee toyed around with some marzipan and coloured cocoa butter to make the first voodoo bunny. "It was gory and horrible and we kept it in the kitchen, then one day a customer asked us to sell it to them and the idea took off," Shepherd says.
The former chef switched to chocolate when he discovered the secret to success was to cook with just one ingredient. "No dishes ever come back to me. Nothing is ever too salty. And I'm not going to overcook it for you," he laughs.
He went on a five week trip to Europe which was where he discovered the magic ingredient. "There were chocolatiers on every street, and each of them were doing better things than what we were doing here," he said.
Fifteen years later, he's never tired of chocolate, showing me the tattoos of cacao emblazoned on his forearms. He started, as a lot of Oregonian producers do, selling truffles in a farmer's market from the back of a ute. The store is named after his wife (Belle) and daughter (Lillie).
He and his staff often experiment with different flavours. They've hooked up with cheese producer Rogue Creamery next door for the ultimate choc-cheese truffle mash-up.
"Many failed experiments ensued after that collaboration. I mean, the nastiest truffles known to man. We almost gave up," he admits. "Then one day we decided on using their Smokey Blue, organic milk chocolate and toasted almonds in an exact ratio and voila! The ultimate blue cheese truffle was born.
"We have been making them for 10 years now and while we are quite aware of how weird they sound, we also know just how incredibly good they are. We put about a year into the R&D. Now it's perfect."
They also make explosively hot chocolate bars. The Do Not Eat This Chocolate bar comes as a warning, as well as a title, with dark and milk chocolate, ghost chilies, Aji Amarillo chillies and a splash of Chilli Arbol, and one bite will make you wish you'd heed the label's advice.
But not all of their wacky experiments have worked. "We have tried thousands of combinations over 15 years, from Thai chili and lemongrass to crystallised flower petals. There have been some wild ideas that didn't pan out. Never ask me again about dehydrated dill pickles. Bad idea, and even worse taste."
Their most popular truffle is a salted lavender, a flavour currently taking Oregon by storm.
"One day I looked out my kitchen window and was watching the butterflies have a great time feeding on these massive lavender bushes in my yard. I went out, picked a few stalks and used them to make a caramel. It was a great combo. Subtle and not all soap-like.
"While exhibiting at the New York Chocolate Show one year they wound up in the hands of Martha Stewart. Her staff called me and wanted to know if I make a bigger box than the four-piece. She ordered 500 one-pound boxes and used them as her corporate gifts and from that day forward, they became our number one seller. Still are to this day. A couple years ago I entered them as a lark in the International Chocolate Awards. They won the global silver medal in London; so I guess they really are that good," he says.
Lavender sea salt caramels from Lillie Belle.
You can find Lillie Belle Chocolates in the "artisan corridor" of Medford, southern Oregon, alongside Rogue Creamery, which sells some of Oregon's best cheese. You can take a cheese plate or one of their sublime cheese toasties and eat it at Ledger David Cellars, next door to Rogue.
Five other great chocolate experiences in Oregon
Creator Sarah Hart was always a true believer that chocolate was a "food of the gods", as its Latin name, theobroma, defines it as such. So she started playing with moulds and recipes and hand gilding them in gold leaf. Some of her creations look too beautiful to eat. Others you can't help but devour, such as their glorious Thai Peanut – organic peanut butter and chocolate ganache infused with coconut, lime, ginger, and chilli inside a 74 per cent dark chocolate shell, topped with a smokey red sea salt. They also make a killer, decadent hot chocolate in store. Almachocolate.com
This Portland chocolatier has a small retail space outside its factory in southeast Portland, and collaborates with other cult Oregon brands such as Salt and Straw ice cream as well as Alma. As Portland's first bean-to-bar company, a husband and wife team that started out roasting their beans with a hair-dryer. Grab a bag of their "Roasties'' – roasted cacao beans from Madagascar that you can snack on or crumble over ice cream.
Xocolatl de David
Excuse me, did someone say hazelnut and black truffle chocolate? These beautifully presented chocolates really push the envelope with flavours like fois gras and black river caviar, but if you're not game, go for the Parmagiano-Regino or brown butter instead. David Briggs creates his bars from single origin chocolate which is sustainable, fair trade and of no less than 68 per cent. You can find them throughout Portland here.
Chocolate at Ranger in Portland.
You can go straight to the source of this delectable chocolate at Cup and Bar, a chocolatier and coffee roaster in northeast Portland. Made from three single origin Peruvian beans, they sell their chocolate as individually wrapped squares that go very nicely with a brew. Bars include a 100 per cent Peruvian sugar free bar or a Wildcard bar which experiments with new beans and technique. Head to the tasting room after avo and toast at the company's cafe, Cup & Bar.
The Meadow call themselves a "chocolate library", where you can source the best chocolate from all over the world. Staff are helpful if you are overwhelmed – and there's a special section dedicated to chocolate from Oregon. Similarly Cacao in Portland also features a curated selection of chocolate from around the world.
Going to the artisan corridor costs nothing; tastings are provided instore at Rogue Creamery and Lillie Belle Farms. Lillie Belle is located at 211 N Front St, Central Point, Oregon; lilliebellefarms.com; roguecreamery.com; ledgerdavid.com
Qantas flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne with connecting flights to Eugene or Portland, qantas.com
Medford is a two-hour drive from Eugene, where there is a small airport with connecting flights to LAX through Qantas. You can stay at the Hilton in Eugene, which has rates from $205 per night. Alternatively you can base yourself in Klamath Falls, which is around 45 minutes from the artisan corridor of Medford. The Running Y Ranch Resort is a beautiful lodge set on 3200 acres of pristine wilderness. Rooms start from $312 per night. runningy.com.
You can also stay at Medford, which also has an airport, at Inn at the Commons, an 118-room hotel in the heart of downtown Medford; innatthecommons.com.
Both Medford and Klamath Falls are the best towns to stay in to access what is arguably Oregon's best attraction, Crater Lake.
Kylie McLaughlin travelled as a guest of Travel Portland and Travel Oregon