Charlotte Barnett shops for a ristra at the Chile Cheese Festival, Saturday. (Noah Vernau Photo)
Most New Mexicans know there’s nothing like a hot bowl of green chili stew in the wintertime, and with cool weather on its way, they populated the 21st annual Chile Cheese Festival this weekend to stock up on their favorite flavors.
But that wasn’t the only reason people came. The two-day festival offered a satisfying fall atmosphere for all ages and taste buds, with live music, fresh treats, free tours of Leprino Foods and a host of vendors.
Graves Farm and Garden was one of many vendors to offer chiles from mild to extra hot, and to arm festival-goers with chile ristras, which owner Buz Graves said are more than decorative and delicious. They’re good luck charms. “That’s what everybody says,” Graves laughed, “and I just go along with it!”
Graves said it’s the perfect time of the year for chile. “Most people will take it home and freeze three or four bushels. People kind of put it off when it’s hot outside, but that’s during (summer). We start selling in late August, and go through November, and now’s the time people start thinking about it. They buy it by the bushels now.”
Harvest Gifts was at the festival selling chile and corn arrangements, powdered chile, dried fruits, nuts, chile ristras and hand-crafted hydrostone crosses. Vendor Clarabelle Romero said Harvest Gifts has been participating in Chile Cheese Festival for more than a decade, and looks forward to the event each year.
“We enjoy seeing the people. They look forward to seeing us, and we look forward to seeing them,” Romero said. “It’s a nice gathering, and truly associated with chiles. Chile is part of New Mexico. It’s New Mexico more than any other place. We have good taste in chiles!
“For a lot of people, that’s one of their staples. One of their table items that they eat every day and enjoy every meal.”
Roswell resident Eric Amstutz said he, like everybody in this area, enjoys chile and looks forward to its season. “Every season it gets here, and you just kind of look forward to it because it’s good — at least I do. It’s part of the Southwest. I don’t see how people live without it, I really don’t.”
Amstutz said that by noon on Saturday, he had already enjoyed a number of foods unique to New Mexico. “I’ve been eating sopapillas. Sopapillas and fried pies, so far — and the roasted corn. And the day’s not over yet, let’s put it that way! I’m enjoying it, and I’m glad the sun’s come out. There’s a lot of good food out here. … All kinds of chile.
“I’m looking forward to this cherry fried pie. I’m going to take it home and enjoy it later.”
While Saturday brought out the sun and hundreds of families along with it, Roswell saw plenty of rain Friday, the first day of the festival.
MainStreet Roswell president Dusty Huckabee said that in the festival’s 21 years, Friday was the first time the Chile Cheese Festival had been rained out. “This is a farm, agricultural festival, so the rain’s good. We’re not complaining at all.
“We have the agriculture belt here, and I’d hate to think what Roswell would be if we didn’t have agriculture. It’s just like blood for us. … If you ever go out into the farm belt, they’re just good, hardworking families.”
Huckabee said more and more people come out each year for the free tours of Leprino Foods. He said if you haven’t been on a tour yet, you’re really missing out. “When I first went out there, I was just flabbergasted. And then I went back about four or five years ago, and, man, it’s just always changing, and they’re always hiring more people. That’s just good for Roswell.”
More than anything, Huckabee says he likes seeing all the people at the Chile Cheese Festival who he hadn’t seen since last year. “It’s people coming together. We’ve never had violence here, we’ve never had violence at the Farmers Market or the UFO Festival, or Piñatafest. So that says something: When people come together and communicate, it makes for a community. We put all that other crap away, and for a couple of days, be nice to each other.”