Despite cloudy weather and a downpour of rain, the bulk of attendees at the 13th annual Valencia County Hispano Chamber of Commerce Matanza were in hog heaven Saturday.
Many a content smile could be seen, ringed in red chile stains, as matanzagoers made the rounds from team to team, their plates piled high with the fair of the day — pork, chile, beans, tortillas, biscochitos and papas fritas.
But not every team’s eats followed tradition, with some breaking from the norm and dishing up more experimental cuisine, such as Michael Jaramillo of team Los Lunas Parks and Recreation, who was busy flipping red chile infused pancakes over a hot griddle.
Or Fat Sats, whose booth featured the luau-like sight of a pork loin with pineapple and cherry tomatoes roasting over mesquite chips, a dish they say they occasionally cook up at the restaurant.
With every team vying for attention and recognition for their individual takes on an age-old event, it would have been impossible for anyone to leave the matanza hungry.
Valencia County Hispano Chamber President Toby Jaramillo said 56 gallons of red chile were consumed at the event, along with 24,000 tortillas and 40 pigs, each weighing about 305 pounds.
Jaramillo said he felt, despite the rain, that everything went well and was well organized. Attendance was down about 50 percent he speculated, probably due to the forecast, and estimated about 2,500-3,000 people showed up.
Jennifer Sullivan came out with her husband, Troy, and friend Benjamin Pankey and his son, Carter, all from Albuquerque, and newbies to the annual matanza.
“I’ve lived in New Mexico all my life and I thought it’s such a big New Mexico tradition that I wanted to see what it’s all about and have some good food,” Sullivan said.
Teresa Lechuga, of Los Lunas, said she came out to try all the food and “go home feeling fat.” She said it was her first time attending the Hispano Chamber’s matanza, but has been to plenty of ones put on by her family. She said she came out because her daughter and cousin were participating and she wanted to enjoy the “different environment and people.”
One aspect that makes this matanza both unique and exceptional are the cooking competitions for different pork dishes.
In the carne adovada competition, Ray’s Trenching and Excavating/Sunset Foods took first place; Los Lunas Parks and Rec took second; and Rio Grande Financial Network and John Kirkpatrich Design and Consulting took third.
In the specialty item category, Ray’s Trenching took first, Tillery Pontiac/Willard Cantina and Lucero Farms/Bibo tied for second place; and PG Enterprises/Jesse Fine Wood Works and Stewart Title tied for third.
In the chicharrones competition, Aztec Lath and Plaster Co. took first; Ray’s Trenching took second; and Lucero Farms came in third.
In the Iron Pig cook off, Fat Sats took first; Rio Grande Financial and Ray’s tied for second; and PG Enterprises won third.
For the Grand Champion award, Ray’s won first, PG Enterprises second and Lucero Farms third. For the People’s Choice award, Los Lunas Parks and Rec won first, Lucero Farms second and Ray’s third.
This marks the first year that the pork used in the matanza was processed in USDA facilities prior to the event, rather than being butchered the day of, as in the past. When asked how the meat this year compared to meat from previous matanzas, Zane Gentzler, of team Jeff’s Pumps, said he saw no difference.
“The meat’s clean,” Gentzler said. “It looks just as healthy as it ever was. I didn’t see a whole lot of difference.”
However, Jeff Barreras, of the same team, seemed unimpressed with the USDA’s butchering skills.
“They sent us USDA stamped meat and it’s all busted up,” Barreras said, pointing to a pile of pork pieces. “They said that USDA approved that and look at it, we can’t serve that. We never treat our meat like that.”
Fidel Baca, of the Belen Consolidated Schools team, said he prefers when he knows where the pig he’s going to serve comes from, how it’s raised and sees how it’s butchered, but in all, didn’t notice too much difference in the meat.
Outside of the feasting arena, ringed with each of the 17 teams’ booths, were a large selection of vendors selling drinks, treats, artwork and more, while the sounds of local New Mexico bands could be heard through the speakers, bringing the Sheriff’s Posse grounds to life.
Inside the Sheriff’s Pose, New Mexico bands piped cumbias, rancheras, country and other music outside through the speakers for everyone to enjoy, while inside the dance floor seemed to fill for every song with couples joyfully dancing like they were teenagers all over again.
This year, the matanza featured an even broader wealth of culture, with many local artists’ work for sale, such as Max Coffey’s metal sculptures welded out of found objects such as barbed wire and horse shoes.
Also on display were a selection of wooden crosses by local artists Jason Baldonado, which the artist’s mother, Marcela Chavez, said her son makes to help fund special equipment for his son, who has autism.
Many of the crosses had embellishments of wire and turquoise on them and one in particular featured a crucifix made of barbed wire. Another Southwestern woodcrafter selling his work was Rio Rancho artist Ben C de Baca, who said he has been a vendor at the matanza for a couple of years. His artwork displayed colorfully painted New Mexico-style designs, such as napkin holders with chiles or Kokopelli.
Another artist on sight was Los Lunas painter and mixed media artist Noé Lara, who was sharing a booth with author and historian Dr. Richard Melzer, who had his New Mexico history books for sale, including a historical account of Valencia County and another about the Harvey Houses.
Along with art were booths of various organizations and local entities, such as School of Dreams Academy and Belen wrestling, whose young men could be seen throughout the event selling large bags of fluffy pink cotton candy.
New Mexico Adrena-line was also present, a drum line group comprised of schools located in Albuquerque and Valencia County. Their exciting, high energy drumming could be heard throughout the vending area, drawing a crowd.
Local sweets makers were also on hand to fill any sugar cravings that are likely to pop up when feasting occurs. The Candy Lady, from Albuquerque, provided a booth selling a wide selection of chocolates, including scrumptious piñon truffles.
Cake pops, the latest baking craze, also made a delightful appearance, along with chocolate covered strawberries and other sweet treats at Vanessa Sullivan and her family’s booth.
Facepainter Emily Horne had her paints and brushes ready to go for the younger ones in attendance, such as 5-year-old Xavier Chavez of Albuquerque, who patiently watched as Horne applied a batman emblem on his hand, while a line of eager faces waited to be decorated.
His father, Kenneth Chavez, said they came out this year to “try some good food and have some fun.”
“It’s good!” said Xavier Chavez about his first ever matanza.
The Kiddie Coral was also up and running for little ones to get some play time in while their parents enjoyed the festivities.
Haxton Haynes, 1 1/2 years old, of Los Lunas, enjoyed the jumpers and other activities with his brother until the weather started to turn stormy and his father decided it was time to catch him and put his little boots back on.
“We try to come out every year, or every other year, to support the community and the Hispano Chamber of Commerce,” said his mother, Addie Haynes. “It’s something fun that we like to do with the boys. It’s a good New Mexico tradition that we like to support and partake in.”
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