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My Short Career Making Tortillas

In 2010, I had the notion to open a tortilla factory here in Napa using the heriloom corn we were importing from Mexico. A commercial tortilleria using heirloom corn was a rare idea, even in Mexico. My friends Yunuen and Gabriel of Xoxoc hooked me up with Gabriel's cousin in Actopan and I spent several rather warm, exhausting but fun days learning that I had no business in this business. Rancho_gordo-1594 Rancho_gordo-1597 This is the dried corn with some cal, waiting for a bath of hot water. It will cook for awhile and then sit overnight. In the morning the skins will have been soft, ready to be removed. Rancho_gordo-1565 After a few days, it dawned on me that making tortillas was an art, but the bulk of the job was moving hot, wet corn from one place to another. In Actopan, you'd have to add the heat, the noise and the obsession with excellence, and it was clear I should stick to beans. Rancho_gordo-1593 Actopan is a funny place. All over Mexico, the instant masa harina tortillas are taking over what were once nixtamalized tortillas. Not in Actopan. A tortilleria using Maseca or some other instant brand of masa could never make it. Rancho_gordo-1576 This is a bad shot of a good masa. You can see that it's moist but not sticky. I describe fresh masa as almost spongy. It feels (and tastes) alive. Rancho_gordo-1560 After making the dough, you'd think that making the tortillas would be the easy part. In a high volume place like this, the machine needs constant adjustments. At night I would have nightmares about tortillas coming off a convyer belt towards me and trying to guess how much a kilo would be before wrapping it in paper. They would come faster and faster and I would wake up wondering if I weren't in an I Love Lucy sketch. I wasn't! Rancho_gordo-1564 The tortillas are sold by weight. This photo shows them ready to be bought. They won't be there for long. I always laugh and think of this photo when my customers ask if we can make packages smaller than a dozen to sell. Who can't eat a dozen tortillas? Apparenty a lot of people, but we're not budging. A dozen it remains! UPDATE: as of this writing, Rancho Gordo has stopped making tortillas. We hope to do it again soon.

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