Years from today maybe this war will have its own name, like The Hundred Years War or the War of the Roses. Just imagine, one day Colorado or New Mexico students sitting in class as their teacher explains the cause of ‘La Guerra de los Chiles.’ They’ll learn that it was a war that produced no casualties beyond the tons of red or green chiles that gave their lives for a good and just cause: the right to be declared ‘El Rey de Chile.’
This interstate conflict began innocently enough when, just a few days ago, Colorado Governor Jared Polis dropped the bomb that Pueblo chile is “the best in the world.” Polis was touting the fact that Whole Foods Market has dropped New Mexico’s Hatch chile and stocking only Pueblo chili in its Colorado, Kansas, Idaho and Utah stores. It’s no small burn, either. Whole Foods is buying more than 125,000 pounds of Pueblo’s chile and leaving Hatch out dry.
And while having a boutique grocer like Whole Foods abandon Hatch in favor of upstart Pueblo is a pretty big deal, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is calling it nothing more than a flesh wound. “If Colorado wants to go chile-to-chile, New Mexico can bring the heat.” As for Whole Foods abandoning Hatch in favor of Pueblo, Governor Lujan Grisham calls it ‘small poblanos.’ “If Pueblo chile were any good, surely it would have been on national shelves before now.”
Polis, not wanting to escalate the conflict and play the role of peacemaker, has called upon his counterpart to the south to join him for a chile summit. He’s suggested they settle this simmering feud in a chile rojo/chile verde taste-off in Trinidad, a border town near the state line. So far, no word from the Land of Enchantment.
Despite being a relatively new kid on the chile block, Pueblo’s pepper has taken on a growing importance in recent years. Pueblo, part of the state’s 8,000 annual acreage dedicated to chile, now has its own chile license plate. The city’s chamber of commerce also has the chile pepper on all of its letterhead and marketing materials.
The Pueblo chile harvest accounts for an estimated $1.1 million dollars to the regional economy. The city also has a growing “Chile & Frijoles Festival” each September, a three-day parranda or party that draws nearly 150,000 people to Union Avenue.
New Mexico, which also has its own license plate, and the state that has practically owned the American chile market, grows nearly ten times the amount of chile as Colorado. But a study conducted by New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service could not place a dollar figure on the economic impact of the pepper, Hatch or other varieties. But it did find that, depending on the season, chili was responsible for generating from 3,000 to 22,000 jobs annually, nearly all of them seasonal.
But what each state does is squeeze every marketing selling point out of its respective chile as possible. Pueblo, for example, touts the growth pattern of its crown jewel, the Mirasol pepper. The name says it all, say Pueblo’s chile cognoscenti. It’s a chile that literally grows ‘facing the sun.’
Not to be outdone, New Mexico takes things a step farther and makes certain that any chile grown in the state carries an official imprimatur declaring its “New Mexico Certified Chile.” No kidding. The New Mexico Chile Association has an employee that signs off on every crop to assure consumers that they’re not getting a generic pepper. Hatch, the town, not the chile, meanwhile, has its own association that has defined an official Hatch growing area. It’s not Hatch or New Mexican chile unless the town or the state say it is.
But while this war of the noses seems to have no end in sight, former Puebloan Tony Aragon, owner of Denver’s Alliance Windows said last year when asked to state a preference, “If it’s there---Pueblo or Hatch---I’ll eat it. Pork chops without green chile are good. Add green chile, they’re great!”