I arrived in Texas about 3 years ago just at the tail end of August, and every grocery store seemed to be filled with piles and piles of large green chiles called Hatch. Being a long time chile connoisseur, I felt I had a gap in my knowledge at never having heard of this variety. Apart from me, no one else seemed to be amazed by the sheer abundance of green chiles, spilling out everywhere. There were fresh hot and mild varieties, tinned ones, jars of Hatch salsa, Hatch tortilla chips, Hatch cheese and many other products, as well as some roasting outsides of stores. The whole town seemed to smell of Hatch chiles.
The reason of the ‘glut’ of chiles, is that August is the start of the chile harvest in New Mexico, with the little town of Hatch being at the epicentre of it all. Hatch is self-proclaimed as the ‘chile capital of the world’ and on Labour Day each year they hold a Chile Festival to celebrate the year’s harvest. Though any chile produced in the Hatch/Mesilla valley, can be know as a Hatch chile, the 4 main varieties that people associate as being Hatch Chiles are NM64 (Mild), Big Jim (Medium), Sandia (Hot) and Lumbre (Extra Hot) with Big Jim holding the Guinness World Record for the largest pepper variety.
The reason that chiles are grown commercially at all in New Mexico is down to Fabian Garcia, a horticulturist who in 1907 starting to develop the New Mexico chile and ultimately from his research have come a number of cultivars such as Big Jim, and the more commonly known Anahiem chile. Today his work is continued by the New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Institute.
On a road trip through New Mexico last year, I had to stop off in Hatch, which is half way between Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences on the I-25. As a chilehead I had to visit the world chile capital. Though it was towards the end of the season, there were still plenty of chiles growing in the fields and we stopped off at Gilly’s Hatch Valley Chile Company at the edge of town to buy some Ristras (large strings of dried chiles) which swung around hanging in the back of the car for the rest of our trip.
Hatch is well worth the visit if you love chiles, especially near Labour Day. One question you will be asked a lot in New Mexico restaurants is ‘Red or Green?’ when ordering food as to the type of chile you want. The other option is ‘Christmas’, which refers to a chile that is part green and part red. The answer should always be ‘green and hot’.