Socorro County scores top spot in NM Chile Taste Off

A team effort by local chile farmers lifted Socorro to New Mexico’s top county for taste, with Lemitar’s Rosales Farms taking green chile honors and the judges favoring Kenneth Bustamante’s red chile.

Both won second place in the 2023 New Mexico Chile Taste Off on Oct. 7 at the Socorro Rodeo and Sports Complex. An all-female panel of judges determined this year’s winners.

While the competition is light-hearted and fun, it is serious business for chile producers. For New Mexico Chile Association executive director Travis Day, it’s another chance to let people know how important the association’s certified chile program has become.

“The biggest thing is to understand the New Mexico certified chili program. It’s our local trademark that the association runs, and it’s our way of giving consumers confidence that the chili they’re consuming is authentic New Mexico, Chile. Unfortunately, we run into a lot of misbranding. You know that New Mexico is worldwide known for chile, and people want to take advantage of that,” Day said.

Day uses the word “misbranding,” but a better description might be counterfeit. Regardless of a person’s description of the “crime”, the NMCA seeks to stamp out the fakes.

“It’s our way of allowing farmers and processors to use that trademark to give their consumers the confidence that the chili is authentic to Mexico. We do audits and verification of those producers, so we can say at any time that it is authentically New Mexico chile.

When it comes to New Mexico green chile, Hatch Valley has been the media’s darling due to a fantastic marketing program, but Day knows the entire state has something to offer.

“There’s a marketing behind the Hatch chile, and we’ve seen that nationwide. But you know, New Mexico is unique when it comes to chile on a nationwide standard. My job is to focus on that. We have members from Hatch, and we support them, but we support them just like the producers here or in Farmington, right? As long as it’s from New Mexico, that’s all we ask for,” Day said.

For Saturday’s judges, their mission was to find the chile that most suited their palette, and those vary due to several reasons, including flavor, heat, and even texture.

For Socorro’s Desi Armijo, the first bite was too hot and left her scrambling for the bottled water in ready supply for tasters.

“I’m looking for a good flavor, something that doesn’t hurt me. You know, something that isn’t too hot because I want to be able to taste it. That first one was just a little too hot for me,” Armijo said.

There’s nothing like a good chile tasting to make people lay aside their differences and enjoy the flavor.

“I was telling Tara that today isn’t a blue versus red day, but a red versus green day,” state senator Crystal Diamond said.

Diamond, a republican, sat side by side with democratic State Rep. Tara Jaramillo, enjoying her green and red chile samples.

“I like it when it has a little heat, and I like it when it has a little bit of a sweet taste,” Jaramillo said.

Diamond’s tastes are much the same.

“I like the heat, but I don’t want it to overpower. If it’s too hot, you can’t enjoy the flavors of the food it is with,” Diamond said.

More photos of the 2023 New Mexico Chile Taste Off are on page six of today’s El Defensor Chieftain.

Russell Huffman, El Defensor Chieftain Asst. Editor