The chile's rise to culinary prominence in Pueblo is about more than just great farming practices.
Hot, dry summers, with 30-degree swings in temperature from day to night doesn’t sound like a recipe for agricultural success, but for chile pepper farms in Pueblo, it’s just what the plant doctor ordered. In fact, according to agricultural expert Mike Bartolo, it’s that unusual desert climate that makes Pueblo perfect for the pepper.
“The weather is generally hot and dry, which reduces pest pressure. The hot days are followed by relatively cool nights, which helps the chilies develop unique flavor components. Notably, Pueblo has one of the greatest variations in day/night temperatures of anywhere in the country,” Bartolo says.
Festivals and Farms
It’s not just the weather that has made the chile pepper the most identifiable culinary trend in Puebloan kitchens. It’s also the marketing efforts of Bartolo and other area growers through the annual Chile & Frijole Festival Presented by Loaf ‘N Jug, which was founded by the Pueblo Chamber of Commerce and is in its 20th year of serving spicy treats to cool locals. This year’s highlight is the newest green chile, the Pueblo Popper, which Bartolo developed.
“[At Colorado State University,] we have been working over the past 20-plus years to select unique chile varieties that are specifically adapted to the area,” Bartolo says. “All of these novel chile selections were derived from the original strain of mira sol chile that had been grown in the area over the past 100 years.”
More than Chilies
While peppers are most plentiful and popular here, some farmers are enjoying successes with other crops as well. One example is Dan Hobbs at Hobbs Family Farm, who splits his efforts between growing organic vegetables and seed for distribution. Of his vegetables, he mostly grows several varieties of garlic, a perfect complement to chile peppers in many dishes.
Hobbs also served as the farmer representative on the Colorado Tourism Office’s Strategic Planning Team, which he says is prioritizing agribusiness as an area for growth. Pueblo’s reputation for chile peppers only continues to grow, as do the resources farmers are putting toward growing them – two facts that uniquely position the community for related agritourism that will in turn benefit all local farmers.
The Big Question
Whether they get their chilies at a festival or directly from the markets of local growers, most locals can agree on the quintessential “Pueblo way” to consume them: the slopper – a burger smothered in a sauce filled with the chilies. Others prefer to get them as part of a Bingo Burger or humongous slice of pizza at Angelo’s Pizza Parlor.
As for chile expert Bartolo? He’s always doing things just a little different.
“I like it very simple … roasted chile on a freshly baked piece of Italian bread,” he says.