Our regular sampler of New Mexico’s food news
By Nora Hickey
A sticky situation
Nearly a million jars of unopened peanut butter will soon be buried in the New Mexico earth. Sunland Inc., a one-time major peanut butter processor based in Portales, filed for bankruptcy after a salmonella outbreak was traced to their jars of Valencia peanut butter in 2012. After 41 people fell ill in 20 states, Sunland overhauled its processing facilities, only to declare bankruptcy months after reopening in October 2013. Since then, vast numbers of uncontaminated jars of the nutty butter have sat in storage. Costco, the former top customer of Sunland and current trustee of the bankrupt estate, agreed to sell the jars after testing deemed them safe for consumption. But after receiving a few cases earlier this year, Costco determined the product unsalable due to peanut oil leakage. Rejecting proposals to donate the food to area shelters or sell to prisons, Costco instead has opted to dump the $2.6 million worth of protein-packed food at a Clovis landfill. We can only surmise that the peanut butter will become part of the lore of peculiar New Mexico burials, from nuclear waste to millions of copies of the 1980s Atari video game E.T. the Extraterrestrial.
Green chile in the red
New Mexico’s prized chile crop has hit its lowest yield in four decades. According to a federal production report, chile in New Mexico fell to 8,600 harvested acres, the lowest yield since 1973. Green chile was especially affected by the problems faced by all varieties: a late harvest start and a closing wet season that increased plant disease. With a truncated season, some of the green chile turned red before it could be harvested. This, along with less crops grown overall, led to a nearly $15 million decrease in the value of chile sold from the field. Despite the disappointing 2013 numbers, current spring planting is going well. According to state farmers, the earliest seedlings are emerging, and plantings will continue through early May. With this season’s warmer weather and dry conditions (which inhibit the spread of invasive pests), next fall’s crop should be coming up in the green.
Beer, a summertime staple, is rolling out in the portable, friendly can form at small breweries across New Mexico thanks to new business Mother Road Mobile Canning. Based in Albuquerque, the company recently helped local brewery Kelly’s can their IPA and Amber brews, which can now be bought locally for the first time. Once the top choice of returning World War II veterans, the beer can has experienced fluctuating popularity since its inception in 1933. Recently, the form has enjoyed growing respect from craft breweries that value the can’s similarity to kegs, protecting beer from light and loss of pressure. The container can be pricey to produce, however, and many smaller breweries don’t own canning equipment. This is where Mother Road rolls in. The owner-operators, David Smidt and Ross Casey, transport their mobile cannery to breweries in New Mexico, Missouri and Arkansas, where the delicious beverage will be transferred into about 35-40 cans a minute. Don’t try to drink it down at the same rate!
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