Nevada City’s Hola! Tortilla set to open storefront this spring
December 31, 2017
Carmen Lang is a tortilla evangelist, preaching the word of salt, flour and water.
"I was making my own," she explained. But then she thought, "Let's share the joy of a good tortilla."
While Lang and Rene Sprattling are well-known in Nevada County and beyond as ceramics artists, the two women dove full-time into an entirely different media. As Hola! Tortilla, they have been selling homemade wheat and corn tortillas at the farmers market and to local restaurants since this summer — and they will be opening a commercial tortilla bakery in Nevada City by this spring.
For now, they operate as a cottage industry in Sprattling's home, and have perfected their routine with a refurbished Hobart mixer, a "pretty rudimentary" hand-cranked corn tortilla press and an automatic wheat tortilla press with a griddle.
As one feeds the balls of dough through, the other expertly gauges when each flattened disc is done and needs to be flipped, then transfers it to cool on a makeshift grid of wire racks. Later, they will be packaged and refrigerated — because Hola! Tortilla's products have no preservatives, they cannot sit out, although they can be frozen.
Lang presses a freshly made corn tortilla into a visitor's hand to taste, saying, "Isn't that good? Isn't that different? That's what it should be."
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Lang grew up in Mexico — and says that what her fellow expatriates miss the most is the food. And specifically, in her case, the tortillas.
"I need good tortillas," she said. "I cannot live without them."
Lang recently spent a six-month artist's residence in Mexico.
"When I came back, I was like, what am I going to do?" she said. "Even the quote-unquote organic tortillas (available in stores) are not that good."
The idea to branch out and make tortillas for others came from Lang's husband, John Morton. After he mused to her that he could not understand why there was no tortilleria in town, the light went on.
She discussed the idea with Sprattling, who saw the potential and jumped on board.
"We both — we never thought we would be doing this," Lang said,
But as both women noted, working with dough is in many ways similar to working with clay.
"We were mixing (dough) by hand in the beginning," said Lang.
The Hobart they acquired had, in its past, been used for honey and for mixing clay.
"It was all beat up and rusty," Sprattling said, adding that John Morton cleaned it up and ordered new parts. "It's saved our shoulders."
Their tortillas are organic and use non-GMO corn. The two women have been experimenting with allergen-free tortillas, and make gluten-free waffle cones.
"The secret is that we don't use preservatives," Lang said. "That's the reason the flavor is so good."
They currently sell spinach, beet and carrot tortillas, and hope to branch out into more exotic offerings.
"There was a learning curve to getting it right," Sprattling said. "We really look forward to experimenting and growing."
'Different, authentic, healthy'
The two women started fleshing out the concept in June and were selling tortillas by August, initially in front of Treats in Nevada City and then at the farmers market. "Every Saturday we were selling out," Sprattling said with pride.
"We've heard a lot that this is just what (was) needed," Lang said. "People thank us, after they try our tortillas, and that feels good."
The reason consumers have responded so positively is that their tortillas are "something different, authentic, healthy," Lang said.
"They're tasty," Sprattling said.
"Really tasty," Lang agreed.
Soon, local stores and restaurants started taking note; Mother Trucker's was the first to sign on, followed by New Moon Cafe and Matteo's. Hola! Tortilla has a commitment from Emily's and serious interest from Briar Patch as well.
Lang and Sprattling have signed a lease at 821 Zion St., in a former flower shop next to Fudenjuce and the (soon to open) Ham Stand.
"It will be a great food destination," Sprattling said. "Fudenjuce is using our tortillas already."
The pair have purchased a larger corn tortilla press that will make production exponentially faster.
"What we make in a week (now), we'll be able to make in an hour," Lang said.
The tortilleria, when it opens, will have a retail counter — and, Sprattling hopes, "a line out the door."
In Mexico, Sprattling explained, customers bring a cloth to wrap their tortillas in; she hopes to source those or have them made for Hola!Tortilla, adding that they are reusable and environmentally friendly.
"You can get tortillas straight out of the machine," Lang promised. "You'll be in heaven."
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at email@example.com.