Have we all finally come to agree that heirloom corn makes the best tortillas? Many of our local chefs have been proving this, from Nico’s Tacos to Sooki & Mimi, from the El Sazon taco counter in a gas station to the cranking kitchen of Jorge Guzman’s Petite Leon and Pollo Pollo pop-ups.
The term Third Wave Masa was coined by Masienda, the company that partners with traditional Mexican farmers to grow and source not only heirloom corn, but also single origin ingredients like chiles and spices, beans and coffee. According to their site, they had been on a food quest in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, “With every tortilla (and tamal and tlayuda and tetela) we tasted, the connection became clear: genetic diversity and regenerative farming practices produced the most delicious flavor and texture. They also happened to be better for the community and the planet. We slowly built our version of a masa value chain in order to not only share the richness of heirloom corn with the world but also help preserve one of the world’s most important crops.”
Originally their harvests were shared only through restaurants and tortillerias, but when the pandemic hit, like many suppliers, they opened up to consumers. You can now buy heirloom corn direct from the people supporting the locals growing it. Do you want to buy some sunset-hued Pink Xocoyul corn so that you might stun the family with pink quesadillas? Me too! Do you have literally no idea how you might get it from kernal to tortilla? Me too! Good news: they’ve got an instructional video for that.
In fact, an entire section of the website is dedicated to learning more about heirloom corn, the cultures that are intertwined with it, and the ways you can bring it into your own kitchen. It’s here that we find a little homage to one of our own locals who has been a champion for this corn, Gustavo Romero of Nixta.
Masienda asked our local James Beard Award-winning filmmaker, Daniel Klein of Perennial Plate, to produce a little film about Romero and his work to bring heirloom corn to the Twin Cities food scene. Jorge Guzman wrote an accompanying story about how he stumbled upon Gustavo’s genius as he got his start cranking out tortillas in a hotel basement in 2018.
After you are fully charmed by this, you’ll want to smash the order button for your own corn, and then follow Romero’s next video, which is a lesson on how to make tamales made with huitlacoche.