A Deep Dive into Culinary Lavender at Los Poblanos

If you’re lucky, you’ll visit Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, a village tucked into the western edge of Albuquerque, at a particular summer moment, when the heat hugs a particular lavender field. Before you see it, you may smell it  – a velvety blend of sweet hay and camphor, with hints of toasted nuts and green leaves. Now, breathe in.

Welcome to the lavender field at Los Poblanos, an award-winning historic inn and organic farm happily solidifying lavender’s place in New Mexico’s landscape. A serene, gorgeous property set among enormous cottonwood trees, Los Poblanos is devoted to preserving its considerable agricultural and architectural legacies.

The property was a model experimental farm in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1976, Penny and Armin Rembe bought the property and raised their family on it. Their family continues to run Los Poblanos, with son Matthew Rembe as Executive Director.

Lavender Leads the Sensory Story

photo courtesy Douglas Merriam

The lavender field is the centerpiece, blooming into a fragrant violet haze each summer. Los Poblano teems with sensory experience, whether the elegantly approachable John Gaw Meem architecture or the screams of roaming peacocks (yes, they are officially called screams, for good reason).

Arguably, lavender is the guide star for Los Poblanos, whose mission is to cultivate a conservation ethic by preserving the property’s agricultural fields, formal gardens, art and architecture through sustainable practices. The property’s devotion to lavender has expanded to three-and-a-half acres, with the main field at three acres and about 8,000 plants.



Hand-tended and harvested organic lavender has been infused into luscious Los Poblanos spa products since soon after Armin Rembe planted the first lavender field nearly 20 years ago. Over time, lavender made its way into Los Poblanos signature culinary products and food and bar menus.

Can’t Fight the Feeling

Aimee Conlee, Director of Sales and Brand Strategy, says that lavender products are Los Poblanos brand ambassadors. She’s right. Despite hundreds of spot-on details at Los Poblanos—house-made caramels are hand-wrapped, for example—the lavender connects people back to the property, whether they volunteer in the fields, buy a bottle of lavender lotion or bliss out as a Los Poblanos guest. A wander on the 25-acre property generates the question: Can you experience Los Poblanos without lavender? Then the better question quickly materializes: Why would you want to?

In late 2017, Los Poblanos opened its new restaurant, Campo, next to the main lavender field. Appropriately, Campo translates as field, with breakfast and dinner service in restored buildings that formerly housed the farm’s dairies. Executive Chef Jonathan Perno designs field-to-fork menus rooted in what he calls Rio Grande Valley Cuisine, which he says “tastes like New Mexico. It’s the sky, it’s the air, it’s everything that encompasses this state and that river.“

The Los Poblanos organic farm includes heirloom and native landrace crops; it’s the source for many Campo ingredients, with local growers and herdsman filling in any blank spots. Perno, a James Beard semifinalist, says he was slow to embrace lavender as an ingredient in his mix. But, he says, “when you come onto this property, all of it demands respect.” Los Poblanos guests and visitors welcome the lavender, but he works with it softly, he says. “People love it. I try to be very, very considerate with how I use it. I kind of let people have their own experience.”

Doing Culinary Lavender Right

Lavender makes just a few appearances on Campo’s menu. A stuffed chicken breast with lavender, garlic, herbs, potato coulis, greens and pickled vegetables is so popular that even diners who don’t usually order chicken order it (and re-order it).

The signature Herbs de Poblanos blends lavender, thyme, rosemary, savory, tarragon, oregano and bay leaf. It seasons menu items such as chilaquiles – corn tortillas, house-made red chile, cheddar cheese, onion, cracked potatoes, eggs and choice of sausage (smoked pork, beef and veal), ham steak or bacon.

Los Poblanos lavender honey stars at breakfast with house-made granola, yogurt and seasonal fruit. Seasonal small-batch jams combine flavors such lavender and apricot. Bar Campo offers lavender champagne; a forthcoming full liquor license will expand cocktail options.

Pastry chef Heather Guay creates inspired desserts such as blueberry-lavender ice cream and cream puffs with lavender pastry cream, lemon-sage sauce and fried sage. She says cooking with lavender demands subtlety. “It can’t taste like the salve,” Guay says. She’s referring to the Los Poblanos signature lavender salve, which uses Penny Rembe’s original recipe and is hand-poured each week from 1934 Garland stoves.

To that end, Los Poblanos uses gently flavored Royal Velvet or English Lavender in cooking and culinary products. The culinary product line, available in the Farm Shop and online, includes lavender simple syrup (think tea, cocktails, baking, ice cream), lavender honey, lavender salt and dried culinary lavender.

Artisan lotion, soap, skin care oil and other body products use Grosso Lavender, which has a more pungent scent profile. It’s steam-distilled into essential oil and hydrosol (flower water) in hand-crafted copper Portuguese stills. Visitors can watch distillation during midsummer’s lavender harvest season, when Los Ranchos de Albuquerque holds its annual lavender festival—the headiest event imaginable for lavender fans and converts.

Lessons in Lavender

photo courtesy Douglas Merriam

Every aspect of the Los Poblanos lavender experience mirrors a larger vision of agriculture, community and hospitality coming together. “When you’re on this property, you’re invited to just be. People are different here; there’s a depth of connection,” Conlee says. Los Poblanos lavender isn’t about trendiness. It’s about steadfastness, strengthening the connections between tending a lavender plant and biting into buttery lavender shortbread.

Conlee describes lavender’s adaptability and generosity—it can calm or energize, and is beloved for uses from decreasing stress to helping digestion. Maybe, just maybe, the lavender at Los Poblanos holds a lesson for the world: “The lavender kind of knows what you need.”

 

Grilled Corn with Lavender Mint Butter, Chile and Lime


Yield: 4-6

Ingredients

  • 4-6 ears sweet corn, grilled
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tsp. lavender buds, lightly crushed
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • 1 tsp. red or green chile flakes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste.

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together butter, chopped mint, lavender, lime juice and chile flakes.
  2. Season with salt and pepper and stir until smooth and creamy.
  3. Serve the corn warm with melted butter