Business

Tortillas made with heirloom corn: A win for diners and farmers

Tortillas from heirloom corn

Jorge Gaviria is on a mission to bring better-tasting tortillas to the world’s best restaurants. In the process, the entrepreneur is investing in farmers with small land holdings in Mexico, where the tortilla was invented and its core ingredient — heirloom corn — is still harvested.

Rather than focusing on yield — the usual priority in commercial agriculture — Gaviria’s company, Masienda, prioritizes flavor and nutritional value. Gaviria believes this is the best way to bring change to a ubiquitous product whose optimal taste and path to market aren’t well understood.

“Breeding for flavor is a concept that’s really not talked about much in commercial agriculture,” Gaviria said. “Usually you’re talking about getting higher yields out of a particular product, but not really thinking about how good can this taste and what’s the highest potential of taste this can have.”

Before starting Masienda, Gaviria worked at two of New York’s top restaurants — Danny Meyer’s Maialino and Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns — where he started wondering about which ingredients could potentially taste better than those consumers had become accustomed to. He landed on corn, whose origins he deemed elusive to its many aficionados.

Now, Masienda creates a fair market for small farmers who cultivate the best crop of corn — but live in poverty — by bringing their product to the world’s top chefs. 

Gaviria said the supply chain he has built replaces “a really convenient solution that had taken over the market and further eroded our connection to the raw ingredient and the people behind it.”


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