New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment because of its rich history and scenic beauty.
In every region of the state you will certainly find something that will feed your soul. In the Southwest, that community offers a unique flavor that can also come with a kick.
The village of Hatch is known as the chile capital of the world. In its fields, local farmers produce the legendary Hatch green chile. It's growing in popularity all across the United States and farmers there are working hard to keep up with the rising demand.
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For the locals, green chile is a staple. It's eaten in green chile enchiladas, green chile stew, chile rellenos, etc., but there's also a lot of experimenting done in the Southwest with green chile.
Among the farmers who grow it, is the Franzoy family. They supply more than 90 percent of the Hatch green chile consumed in the United States each year and they've been farming the soil in Hatch for a very long time.
When you drive into the village of Hatch, with its population listed around 1,600 people, it's clear that it's a farming community.
The smell of fresh-roasted Hatch green chile fills the air during the harvest season. Red chile, which started out green, but it ripened longer on the vine, hangs dried in decorative ristras.
Hatch chile, both red and green, has a unique flavor that's credited to the valley where it's grown.
"The combination of our hot days and cool nights, and the sandy loam soil that attribute to that flavor and of course the tender love and care given by the farmers in the area," Chris Franzoy said with a smile while standing in one of his chile fields in Hatch.
Franzoy owns Young Guns Produce.
In the 2018 season, his farm grew around 100 acres of green chile and processed another 500 acres that were grown by other farmers in the valley.
"And it's almost like a love story that you can tell. You know, how the land is cultivated and the people come together for the harvest," Chris said. "And that's what's so beautiful about the Hatch story. It's especially rewarding when consumers enjoy the fruits of our labor."
Hatch green chile, is a crop that has deep roots in the Franzoy family.
The Franzoy's are to credit for the mass production that's seen today, as well as its humble start a century ago.
"Our family migrated here from Austria in the early 1900s, and discovered chile peppers as early as 1917 and unofficially went to market in 1931," Chris said.
Chris said there must have been something in that chile because the Franzoy's original 10 family members expanded to around 700 family members farming in Hatch today.
"And to know that we're part of that history and that I'm a fourth-generation farmer, it's something that I'm very proud of," Chris said.
And the popularity of their green chile continues to grow far beyond the New Mexico market and into grocery stores and eateries across the United States.
"This is a product that's on trend," Chris said. "It has momentum behind it, retailers are marketing it, restaurants are marketing it on their menus and we see that momentum continuing."
One of the restaurants that is continually experimenting with Franzoy's Hatch green chile is The Game Sports Bar and Grill.
It has two locations in Las Cruces, which is just a 40 minute drive from the Hatch Valley.
"Green chile is very important to the locals, you know certainly our number one question is, 'red or green?'" Marci Dickerson, owner of The Game, said. "Green chile is in everything that we eat, it is truly the centerpiece of our culture."
Hatch green chile is in a lot of menu items at The Game restaurants.
Starting with a brunch favorite: the green chile bloody mary, followed by favorites for all ages: green chile mac and cheese and the green chile cheese burger.
The menu's show stopper is an appetizer of pecan-encrusted green chile called the Corked Bat.
"So the corked bats are our signature item here at The Game and it truly is what I call, 'the best of the valley.'" Marci said.
It's very popular as an appetizer or on top of any other item on the menu—including the green chile cheese burger.
These creative and tasty Hatch green chile options are in addition to the countless traditional Mexican food dishes, proving that in Southern New Mexico, green chile is essential.
"So not only is it the centerpiece of our culture and something we celebrate everyday with green chile in almost every single meal, but it really is the centerpiece of agriculture and the thing that truly puts New Mexico and certainly our valley on the map," Marci said.
But there are inherent risks that come along with growing it. From an increasing debate over water rights to Mother Nature being a foe rather than a friend.
"I think we gamble everyday when we come to work," Chris said. "We invest a lot of money into the crop and you just never know when a hail storm is going to hit you, you don't know if insect pressure is going to take over the crop and we're certainly always concerned about the drought. So, you know, those are things that we think about everyday and quite honestly, it's made a good Christian out of me. I pray a lot."
There is also a constant effort to make sure that only Hatch green chile is labeled Hatch green chile.
"Hatch chile is only Hatch chile if it's grown in the Hatch Valley," Chris said.
Franzoy's products are state certified as New Mexico True and with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. It's a stamp of the authentic flavor of the Southwest.
"It's just amazing that the momentum is continuing and not sure where we're heading, but it's pretty exciting," Chris said.