It’s that time of year again in Valencia County, as well as across New Mexico. The roasters are back, and fresh green chile is for sale once again.
This year, Belen has a new option to buy chile at, as High Desert Industrial on Main Street has begun selling chiles grown at Cinco Estrella — Five Star Chile in Lemitar and roasted to order in the HDI parking lot.
Michael Vallejos, owner of High Desert Industrial, had to learn to roast on the fly, as he didn’t have much experience prior to beginning to sell this fall.
“It’s hot — it’s pretty interesting. We go to the farm every other day to get the chile and bring it in fresh,” Vallejos said. “It’s a little bit of an art trying to get the roasting right to make sure that it peels easy. We’ve got customers always asking if it’s hot or if it’s mild, but it’s chile,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve got an average but it’s hard to say.”
Despite it being the first year they have carried chile, the demand has certainly been there. Vallejos said they have already roasted about 175 sacks of chile.
“We’re just getting going,” he said. We’re not one of the big guys. We’re just getting known for it, so it’s been good.”
The chile greets customers entering the store, sitting on a pallet just inside the door, waiting to be roasted. Vallejos said his roaster cooks at an estimated 1,200 degrees — so hot that if he didn’t rotate the barrel while it was running the flame would melt the cage.
While it is a new experience for Vallejos, Steven Sichler is a sixth-generation farmer, whose family sells their chile, which they grow on a roughly 670-acre farm near San Antonio, in Los Lunas at Snake Farms off Main Street.
Sichler operates the Los Lunas store for the family, and has been involved with the business since he was 13 years old. He helps run the farm alongside his father in addition to his duties running the Los Lunas store.
The Sichlers grow their chile in three batches, with the first harvest ready in August, and the last one ready by October in order ensure there is always fresh green chile available, and they are able to move it before it ripens and turns red.
“We’re out picking everyday,” Sichler said. “We missed one day because of the rain. It was just too wet out there to get a hold. We pick every day but Sunday so we always have fresh chile.”
Sichler has been running the store in Los Lunas for nine years, but was working on the farm long before that.
“When I was 13, my dad broke his neck and that was the end of sports and everything. I just came home and worked on the farm, Sichler said. “He was fine, but at that point I was so into it and I really enjoy it. Farming is a really good life. I like it.”
Chile season is Sichler’s favorite time of year, particularly getting to sell in Los Lunas.
“I really like selling chile, particularly here in Los Lunas because the people here appreciate it so much,” he said. “I couldn’t do it without them. They’ll come to me and say, ‘Oh we’re so glad you’re here.’ But I’m so glad they’re here too you know. I couldn’t do this without them. It’s something that everyone in New Mexico every year they put up.”
This season, there was a late frost which hurt the output of this year’s crop, but Sichler said it has mostly impacted the wholesale business and but they have enough to keep their stores stocked.
Snake Farms has multiple roasters and roasts the chile while customers wait, even loading it into their cars.
The roasters run nearly constantly, as the crackling of the roasting chile provides a near constant backing soundtrack to those in the store.