LOS LUNAS — The distinctive aroma of roasted green chile is permeating throughout Valencia County as the chile season is in full swing.
Whether you like mild, medium, hot or even lumbre (fire), the sacks of the mouth-watering New Mexican flavor are ready for the taking.
Steve Sichler, owner of Snake Ranch Farm in Los Lunas, is a sixth generation farmer.
“We changed the name about five or six years ago, just to distinguish us apart because there’s a lot of Sichlers anymore and they’re wanting to start a business like ours or claim they’re the same thing,” Sichler said.
Snake Ranch Farm, which grows its chile on a 650-acre farm in San Antonio, N.M., sells about 8-9,000 sacks each season in Valencia County.
This year’s crop, Sichler said, seems to be pretty good and hearty.
“It looks good; seems like there’s plenty of it,” he said. “Up to now, it’s been a good season but we’re still harvesting — we just started.”
Using 400 gallons of propane a week for 12 weeks, Sichler says it’s a pleasure to serve his customers each year.
David Garcia, one of several Snake employees, will roast and bag customers’ chile for hours each day. He said it takes about three to four minutes to roast one sack, explaining it’s an art.
“You don’t want to burn it,” Garcia said. “I look at the ends, and when it starts to peel, I know it’s done.”
Andrew and Gloria Madrid, of Los Chavez, have been partaking in the Sichlers’ chile for about 40 years. This year, the couple took home four sacks of Big Jim green chile to put away.
The Madrids don’t peel their chile before freezing it. Instead, they leave the skin on, put it in freezer bags and let it cool before storing it in one of their three large freezers.
“We peel it when we take it out of the freezer,” Gloria said. “It’s a lot easier and it tastes better because it keeps the taste in.”
“We’ll give it to the daughters and the grandkids when they come over,” Andrew said. “If they want a bag, it’s there for them. It’s for the whole family.”
The Madrids eat their green chile with nearly every meal, from ribs to pizza and sandwiches to hamburgers.
“We put it on pretty much everything,” Gloria said.
“We use the green and the red,” Andrew said. “When the red is ready, we’ll buy two sacks of red.”
Empty nesters Rocky and Doris Bennett, of Belen, are putting away one sack of green chile this year, saying they don’t need a lot since it’s only them at home.
“We usually get a sack of hot, but this is the first year we’re going to medium,” Rocky said. “We’re a little bit older, so the hot is hot. It was getting to the point that we can’t enjoy it. The medium hot has good flavor.”
Everyone has their own way of peeling the green chile. Doris will peel it, take out the seeds and Rocky will put it in small bags — small enough for one or two meals — and then they’ll freeze them.
To help with the heat, Doris will use latex gloves when peeling the chile, saying it’s too hot to handle without them.
“It burns and it stays on for days,” she said.
The Bennetts, much like a lot of people in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, make a lot of different meals with green chile, including salsa, green chile hamburgers and green chile stew.
“I’m going to try green chile macaroni and cheese this year,” she said. “I do a homemade macaroni and cheese, and my daughter told me about it and I’m going to try it.”
Teresa Chavez, owner of Chavez Farms on Don Pasqual Road in Los Lunas, has been growing and selling green chile and other vegetables for 28 years. Until her husband, David, died three years ago, the duo ran the farm together.
Chavez said this year’s crop seems to look pretty good, although there have been challenges.
“There’s been a lot of weeds, and we don’t spray (for pesticides), and it’s been hot,” Chavez said. “We’re making it work.”
Chavez doesn’t count the number of sacks she sells per year, but Chavez Farm has 11 acres of green chile.
“We just barely started,” she said. “We’re not like everybody else because they come from further south so theirs is ready two weeks earlier.”
Chavez’s customers like a variety of different green chile, with Big Jim (a big medium chile) and Sandia (regular hot) being the main sellers.
“We have extra hot, which is barkers; we have New Mexico Heritage, which is mild,” she said. “People buy it, but not as much. We do have lumbre. We have more people calling about it than actually come and buy it. It comes off a little later in the season.”
Miss Junie, a newer type of green chile, is a big, meaty chile, which is hot.
Chavez Farms customer Joe Voss has been traveling from Albuquerque every year for the past 10 years and likes Chavez’s Miss Junie.
“This lady has good chile, good service and everything,” Voss said.
Voss, who gets one sack each year for himself, said he enjoys his chile, which he describes as “perfect hot.” It takes him about an hour to peel and put away.
“I’ll eat it with anything and everything,” Voss said. “I’ll make green chile stew, have it with eggs, with hamburgers — with everything. I’ll have to wait for later to get my red chile.
“Chavez Farms is very nice, good people, who have good products and it’s a good atmosphere here,” he said. “They just want to make you want to come back.”
Like many others, Chavez Farms offers free roasting, but Chavez also gives her customers something extra — she washes the chile before she roasts it.