By David Burge
If you are new to the Lower Valley, have never visited Licon Dairy or haven’t stopped by in a while, the family who owns this iconic attraction has a message for you.
They want you to stop in for a few minutes and see what they have to offer.
“Lots of new people are moving into San Eli and don’t know about us,” said Eugenio Licon Jr., the dairy’s owner.
“Our message is stop by and check out our facilities, the animals, our store,” he continued. “We have fresh cheese every day.”
Licon Dairy, located at 11951 Glorietta Road in San Elizario, is known for its freshly made “azadero” cheese.
The dairy, which also has a petting zoo and a new restaurant, draws people from all over the United States and Canada, who come for the tasty cheese.
But for some people in the local area, it’s just a place they drive by while zooming up and down Socorro Road.
“San Elizario has grown so much in the last 10 years, and those are the people who really don’t know we are here,” Licon Jr. said.
For nearly 60 years, the dairy has sold its freshly made “azadero” cheese, which is great for tacos, quesadillas and other delicious dishes.
The family misspelled asadero with a “Z” on its first promotional items when Licon’s parents — Eugenio Sr. and Maria – opened the dairy in the early 1960s, and they have continued to spell it that way ever since, Licon Jr. said.
Licon Jr.’s maternal grandparents — Sotero and Isabel Martinez — came up with the original recipe for the cheese.
In the 1950s, they moved to the El Paso area from California, bought some cows and started selling their products door to door, Licon Jr. said. The rest is history, so to speak.
The Licon family hasn’t deviated from that original recipe and technique.
“I don’t think you will find it anywhere else but here,” Licon Jr. said. “People come from all over the country to give our cheese a try.”
Their other products include spicier versions of their cheese made either with jalapenos or habanero chile peppers.
In addition, they sell a cheese byproduct called whey, or suero in Spanish, Licon Jr. said. That is also used for cooking, he said.
Another popular product is their requeson, a spreadable Mexican cheese, Licon Jr. said.
Of course, no trip to the Licon Dairy would be complete without seeing the petting zoo.
Licon Jr.’s parents started it about 25 years ago when they brought a pair of baby ostriches home. Those original ostriches still live at the dairy and can be seen daily.
They also have a camel, a pair of llamas, some Watusi longhorn cattle, goats, some miniature donkeys and a pair of surprisingly fast-moving tortoises.
Spring is one of the best times to visit, because you can see the new baby animals who have just been born, Licon Jr. said.
Early last year, the petting zoo suffered a major setback, when a couple of dogs snuck in late at night and dug into some of the pens. The dogs killed some of the animals and injured some others.
The petting zoo was closed for a few days but quickly reopened.
Through the generous support of the Borderland community and people from around the country, the family was able to raise about $10,000 through a GoFundMe page. The money is being used to reconstruct the animals’ pens and make them more secure. Work should be done by the spring.
They also got several new animals donated to the petting zoo.
“Ten thousand dollars goes a long ways,” Licon Jr. said. “We are doing the work ourselves. We have accomplished a lot already. We moved our goats into a new facility; we’re moving the llamas. We’re tearing down old pens and rebuilding new ones.”
They also sell bags of feed for $1 and proceeds are used to help maintain and run the petting zoo.
Kids of all ages can enjoy feeding the animals. But the camel and ostriches can be on the ornery side and it is not recommended that you feed them, Licon Jr. said.
Licon Jr. has been running the dairy for the past 16 years. His father continued to stay active and served as Licon Jr.’s right-hand man until he died in February 2018 at age 83.
For years, Licon Sr. stocked the pond at the dairy with fish, but that’s been difficult to continue.
The pond is in the process of being cleaned and the plan is to refill it by the spring. While you won’t be able to fish there anymore, it can still serve as a scenic backdrop for a picnic or for a walk.
Now, a new generation of the Licon family is getting involved.
Licon Jr.’s oldest son, Angel, opened a restaurant – the Outlaw Saloon and Grill – at the dairy last June. It serves gourmet burgers, wings, ribeye steaks, quesadillas and of course, the dairy’s cheese products.
An official grand opening for the restaurant is planned for March. By then, an outdoor patio that Angel is building should be ready. The patio will be used for outdoor dining and as a venue for bands, magicians and other entertainment.
“We are excited for this year. We have a lot of new things coming, with our petting zoo being rebuilt,” Angel Licon said. “We are doing a whole makeover on the property, just a new look on everything.”
*Location: Licon Dairy is at 11951 Glorietta Road in San Elizario.
*Directions: From Loop 375, and exit on Socorro Road and travel seven miles east. Turn on Glorietta Road.
*Store and petting zoo: Open 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter. 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. after the time change. Closed on Christmas.
*Restaurant: Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
*School groups: Are welcome to come and visit.
*Information: (915) 851-2705.