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It’s chile roasting time

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

HATCH – It’s that time of year when the smell of roasted chile fills the air and the village of Hatch is full of visitors looking to buy the freshly picked crop.

“It’s a good year,” said Sergio Grajeda, a farmer who also owns his own chile store in town.

The harvest season, which usually begins in August, is early. “We started this year about July 25, about two weeks early,” Grajeda said.

This year’s harvest began showing up in Albuquerque stores this week.

The climate determines the harvest season, and this year there was just enough rain to produce a healthy crop, according to Grajeda.

“You have to care for the crop as carefully as a baby,” he said. His family started from the bottom working the land 25 years ago. Now he and his brother farm 200 acres, and each owns a store in Hatch, which proudly claims the title of “chile capital of the world.”

Grajeda said his Hatch Chile Market has built a loyal following in the five years the store has been open because of its authentic flavor.

“Nothing compares to Hatch,” he said.

The value of New Mexico’s chile crop statewide in 2017 was estimated at $44.6 million and totaled more than 62,700 tons, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistic Service and New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

Year-round NMDA inspectors are on the lookout for impostor chile grown in other states or countries in violation of the New Mexico Chile Advertising Act.

Grajeda said he and other farmers can spot counterfeit chile posing as Hatch-grown because it’s on sale well before harvest season. He said chile from China poses the biggest problem.

Violators have 30 days to comply with the act by either registering their product or updating their label to indicate “not grown in New Mexico.” There have been 84 inspections this year, with 66 notices of violations.

If the violation is not corrected, “We will issue a stop-sale on the product and remove it from the shelves,” Ray Johnson, with the standards and consumer services division of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, said in an email response to questions.

The Bergs drove 574 miles from Kerrville, Texas, to buy medium-hot Hatch chile.

“That’s how much we love it,” Mickey said as her husband, Glenn, packed a cooler full of fresh green chile in the back of their SUV.

Last year, the couple bought roasted chile to take home. “It’s an aroma you can’t find anywhere” else, Mickey Berg said, smiling.

That aroma permeated their car and the hotel room where they stayed during their road trip, so they decided this year that they would roast it themselves when they get back home to Texas.

Frances Schroder and her daughter Marti were at the store picking up two 40-pound sacks of chile to take back to the Cain Ranch near Truth or Consequences. They waited as Grajeda tossed their freshly picked chile into a roaring roaster and the smell wafted through air.

“A meal without chile is not a meal,” Schroder said.