A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but that’s not the case for Colorado-grown fruits and vegetables. Name recognition means a lot in the state, from juicy Palisade Peaches and sweet Rocky Ford Cantaloupe to Colorado Potatoes, Olathe Sweet Corn and the sizzling Pueblo Chile.
“Colorado growers do a great job because they know their name is riding on the quality of their crop, as well as 100 years of pride,” says Shane Milberger, a chile grower and owner of Milberger Farms in Pueblo. “Pueblo has been growing chiles since as far back as 1903. One family of growers here is in its sixth generation. We’re so well known for chiles in this area, and that gives us pride, because everybody wants the Pueblo Chile.”
Milberger Farms grows 60 acres of chiles in different heat levels, from as mild as a bell pepper to as spicy as a ghost pepper. The true Pueblo Chile variety, Milberger says, is the Mirasol, which has a unique, spicy flavor. Mirasol means “looking at the sun,” and the chile is aptly named since it grows upright toward the sun.
“What makes the Pueblo Chile so great is that, first, our community knows how to grow them – they’re a staple in southern Colorado,” Milberger says. “Second, we have an ideal climate. The hot days and cool nights create body and thickness in the chile and enhance the flavor. Plus, we have good soil and water.”
Growers harvest the chiles from August to October, and they typically are eaten fire-roasted.
“They’re good with everything,” Milberger says. “You can eat them with olive oil and garlic on bread, put them in spaghetti sauce or green chili, on sandwiches, or stuffed like a chile relleno.”
Rocky Ford Cantaloupe
Cantaloupe is the city of Rocky Ford’s claim to fame. The first Rocky Ford Cantaloupes were grown in the area in 1887, and by 1896, the melons were being shipped by train to markets as far away as New York.
“Rocky Ford Cantaloupes were actually featured on the menu of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel many years ago,” says Michael Hirakata of Hirakata Farms, president of the Rocky Ford Growers Association. “Our cantaloupes are unique because they are sweeter than any other. They are grown in Otero and Crowley counties south of the Colorado Canal. The area we are in is special due to the elevation, the heat of the day, the cool of the night, and our water and arid environment.”
The highly sought-after melons give the whole community a sense of pride – even Rocky Ford High School’s mascot is the “Meloneer.”
“I enjoy watching them grow and mature, and finally shipping them to stores,” Hirakata says. “Sometimes you run into somebody who will thank us for what we do, and we also thank the consumer, because without them we couldn’t exist. That’s very rewarding.”
Colorado also has a nationwide reputation for producing tender, mild cuts of lamb, and foodies often request Colorado Lamb by name.
“You can find Colorado Lamb on restaurant menus from coast to coast,” says Bonnie Brown, executive director of the Colorado Lamb Council. “Our lambs are raised with plenty of sunshine, fresh mountain air, and a variety of nutritious grasses and grains that finish in a tender, mild and flavorful center-of-the-plate entree.”
The Colorado Lamb Council has partnered with the American Culinary Federation Colorado Chefs Association to promote Colorado Lamb for more than 20 years, and the meat is featured at some of the most prestigious events in the state.
“We work with culinary schools to educate chefs about Colorado Lamb’s nutritional value and versatility,” Brown says. “Many chefs develop a lifelong affinity for Colorado Lamb and continue to use it throughout their career, regardless of what state they live in.”