Few people have taken the St. Joe Farmers Market by storm the way that Aaron & Christie Harris did last summer. When they debuted their artisan corn tortillas along the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan even they had no concept of the impact they would have on the local food scene with their Molino Tortilleria.
Fast forward to now and you will find them just days away from the grand opening of their brand new brick and mortar store in downtown Sawyer which takes a bow next Saturday, February 15th.
Molino’s new 2,500 square foot facility is located at 5846 Sawyer Road in downtown Sawyer. The new space will house their entire production operation, as well as a beautiful retail storefront open to the public on Saturdays. Fresh tortillas and pan dulce will be for sale as well as some brand new Molino merchandise. Molino Tortilleria is also debuting a brand new online store where customers can place their orders ahead of time. You can learn more about that by clicking the link below:
When they popped up on the bluff last summer selling tortillas and Mexican inspired pastries from their booth at the downtown St. Joseph farmers market, Molino Tortilleria rapidly became a taste sensation and an absolute market favorite. In short order they began expanding their reach by working with local restaurants and chefs to showcase their unique products.
Aaron & Christie Harris, the husband and wife team behind Molino, tell us they began their journey as people just trying to make a good taco. Little did they know what would be ahead of them. Aaron says, “We never had any intention of starting a business, we just wanted to make good tacos for ourselves.” However, when tortilla options where they were living fell short, the couple took it upon themselves to try their hand at making them from scratch. As Aaron says, “We just kind of got hooked on the process when we dug into what it took to create our own corn tortillas.”
Molino Tortilleria will be the first to insist they are not reinventing the wheel or blazing a trail. The reality is actually quite the opposite. You see, the process they use to cook the corn and create masa — the corn dough used to make tortillas — is called Nixtamalization and evidence of its use in Mesoamerican cultures can be traced back thousands of years– and for good reason. Aaron is quick to point out that Nixtamalized corn has many health benefits when compared to untreated corn. He says, “It removes toxins, imparts calcium, activates amino acids and vitamin B3 while also freeing trapped niacin found naturally in the corn, allowing our bodies to absorb the nutrients more readily.”
The process has remained almost completely unchanged, and Aaron notes, “We’re just going back to the way it’s always been done, simple ingredients, stone ground and made fresh.” Before the rise of commercially processed corn flour, that is how tortillas were made — Dried corn cooked in lime-treated water, allowed to soak overnight, washed and ground in a mill using real volcanic stone to create fresh masa.
The Harris family, however, contends that their Molino Tortilleria isn’t content to stop there, because they are true advocates for food diversity on a mission to highlight different and interesting varieties of corn in their products. They began sourcing landrace varieties of corn from small independent farms in Mexico where farmers have selected seeds for generations to ensure the highest quality corn for producing masa.
While they continue to purchase from Mexico they’ve also started a sourcing program with local farmers experimenting with new varieties that are well suited for growing in the Great Lakes Region. Most recently they’ve worked with Granor Farms, an organic farm with a large presence in Southwest Michigan, and a fellow vendor at the St. Joseph Farmers Market. Granor Farms sources a red dent variety of corn to Molino in hopes of creating the first Michigan grown and produced tortilla.
Harris suggests, “Agricultural diversity is really at the heart of what we are doing here at Molino.” He adds, “We’re hoping to leave an impact with our customers on why it’s important to support diversity in our food system. A healthy diverse food system means food stability for our future and we want to do our part in supporting that.”