You could smell the cooking pork and garlic all the way from Christopher Road Saturday morning.
The delicious aroma wafting southward was the result of hours of work, many in the pre-dawn hours, by 17 teams of cooks, helpers and matanzaniers at the Hispano Chamber of Valencia County’s 14th annual Matanza.
This year’s event drew between 10,000 and 12,000 people, said Fernando Sisneros, the chamber’s board president.
“We are still getting numbers from some of our off-site sales, but we believe this is the most accurate number we’ve had,” Sisneros said.
This year, after 13 years at the Sheriff’s Posse grounds, the Matanza moved south to Eagle Park. Sisneros said the event had simply outgrown the posse grounds.
“It went really well. A lot smoother than we anticipated,” he said. “You always have a plan going in, but there are always things you can learn from, do better next time.”
Sisneros said there were some minor problems with the parking situation — attendees could not drive onto the grounds, but instead parked for free at one of three areas and were brought to the Matanza grounds by bus.
“There are things that will be addressed at our next board meeting,” he said. “I believe they are going to be easy fixes, like allowing for more handicapped parking and easier access.”
Sisneros said he thought having a separate area for motorcycle parking would be advantageous, too. As far as Eagle Park itself, so far he has gotten good feedback and comments.
“People said there was a lot of room and the grass made it easier to get around,” Sisneros said. “The crowds were great. I think some of our previous numbers may have been inflated because it was so difficult to get an accurate count.”
The teams were also happy with the extra room for their camps and liked being able to have vehicles and trailers closer to where they were working, he said.
“We got a lot of positive reviews for all entertainers — Al Hurricane, Al Hurricane Jr., the Kevin Michaels Band and The Remedy. Everyone really enjoyed the music,” Sisneros said.
Sisneros is excited to sit down with the board while the event is fresh in everyone’s minds to talk out and learn from the small issues that arose during the Matanza, he said.
“I just want to tell everyone — the teams, the board, all the volunteers — they did a good job,” he said. “There are some small things we need to tweak. Hopefully we can stay at the park and next year it will be easier to put together. We already have the layout; it just needs some minor adjustments.”
Sisneros said the chamber was very happy working with the city of Belen, which allowed them to use the park, as well as Belen Schools.
“Belen Schools really stepped up and helped us out. I’ve talked to them, and they will commit to more buses next year,” he said. “The drivers were working hard to get everybody in. The crowd was slow in the morning but between 10 a.m. and noon, it swelled. Things got a little overwhelming.
“All in all it was very successful and we are very pleased with the way it went. All the board members worked hard to put this together, our family, friends and all the other volunteers. We put our best effort forward and pulled it off. There’s always a plan and when it’s executed as planned, it’s great.”
And while some folks may have noticed the minor parking and shuttle snafus, they didn’t forget what was really important — the food.
“You know, I’ve lived in New Mexico for 40 years and never gone. So far, so good,” said Jan Richards of Sandia Park while waving a tortilla filled with carne adovada for emphasis.
Christine Lopez, of Albuquerque, was also out early on the chilly Matanza morning for the first time and seemed happy to have made the trip from the South Valley.
“The beans are fantastic and the chile is excellent,” Lopez said.
So excellent in fact, she feigned eating her plate and she and friend Leonard Baca hammed it up for the News-Bulletin photographer.
“I’ve been coming down here for many years,” Baca said. “The chicharones are so good; I get here early for them.”
The chicharones were hands down a crowd favorite, if the informal polling done by the newspaper is any indication. Marie Duran came from just across the river, as she has done for several years, just for the fresh chicharones.
Kelly Clarke, of Albuquerque, also named the chicharones her favorite.
“I’ve come before but it’s been a few years,” Clarke said. “It’s a good event, good food. Amazing.”
Adrian Garcia, with the Aztec Lath and Plaster Co. team, said the secret to great chicharones was to take your time cooking them. He did indicate there might also be a secret ingredient, but he stayed mum.
Phillip Schmidt broke the chicharone trend, naming carne adovada as his favorite Matanza fare. But no matter what your preferred delicacy, there is one thing that truly makes the Matanza special — family.
“I’ve been coming down for six or seven years,” said Glenn Schwerin, of Albuquerque. “It’s authentic, local food — a family tradition. You see two, three, even four generations coming together. That’s really neat. It’s what makes this unique.”
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