For many Denverites, the annual arrival of a bushel of roasted peppers is a near-religious event. But for some chile lovers, the object of worship is changing. Hatch chiles—bred during the early 1900s in southern New Mexico—have long been the requisite September treat; however, when Colorado State University horticulturist Michael Bartolo obtained a seed from his uncle Harry Mosco’s farm and planted it at a CSU research farm, he found a chile that just may change all that.
The plant, which Bartolo had never seen before, stood out from the Pueblo (or Mira Sol) chiles surrounding it: The pods didn’t hang from the plant, but instead grew straight up toward the sky, like rockets ready for launch. Kneeling closer, he discovered the orange-red pods had a startling thickness that would make them perfect for roasting. Bartolo was smitten.
Ten generations of the plant later, Bartolo brought the Mosco pepper to market. It appears to be an instant success. Colorado growers love how the chile (also known as the Pueblo or the New Mexican Improved) has adapted to the climate and the growing season of southern Colorado. Roasters love it because the unwanted skins fall off with the flick of a knife. Consumers love the Mosco, too, but for a reason Aeron Calkins of the Chili Guys on Federal Boulevard finds harder to describe. “Maybe the Mosco is a little sweeter, or maybe hot in a different way,” Calkins says. “Once you try it, all you can say is that the flavor is phenomenal.” In the last five roasting seasons, Calkins has seen the Mosco jump from just three percent of his total sales to nearly 50 percent. He cites one reason: the Mosco’s mysterious tangy-sweet heat.
When the chile stands roll into Denver’s parking lots this season, look for the Hatch chile’s plump cousins from the Arkansas Valley. Or, for a more immediate taste, head to TAG Restaurant on Larimer Square and order the goat enchiladas. Chef Troy Guard’s secret to that savory dish? The Mosco chile.
9/10/13 Correction: This article originally stated that today’s Hatch chiles were bred centuries ago. We also misidentified Michael Bartolo as Richard Bortolo and wrote that he discovered the Mosco chile on his uncle’s farm in a field of Hatch New Mexican chiles. We regret the errors.