Wharton: Don Julio foods and the simple tortilla
Clearfield • While birding in Mexico a few years ago, we stopped at a small roadside stand and watched fresh corn tortillas being made by hand and then cooked in a simple frying pan over a stove. Workers added a few beans, folded the tortilla and, voila, a delicious lunch!
I thought about that travel moment recently while touring the high-tech Don Julio tortilla plant in Clearfield with vice president of sales Greg Bingham.
The tortilla might be one of the world's easiest-to-make foods. But the machinery in this plant designed to make 3,800 dozen flour tortillas an hour was anything but simple.
Start with a giant flour silo than can hold 90,000 pounds. Though the flour is pre-sifted, it goes through another seven-stage sifting process before being moved into a giant mixing bowl with other ingredients.
Operators of the tortilla-making machine decide whether to make the tortillas six, seven, eight, nine, 11, 12 or 14 inches wide. Different pipes are placed on the machine to determine the size. Dough balls made by machine are popped into the tubes 25 at a time.
At that point, the flattened tortillas are baked with a somewhat golden brown texture. A conveyor belt takes them into a cooling area so they are not hot when they come out, something that could cause them to stick together in the bag.
A digital device examines each tortilla coming out of the cooling area, discarding the three percent that are slightly deformed. Operators set the machine to stack tortillas to be packaged. On this day, a new 24-count flour tortilla pack ordered by Wal-Mart is being produced.
The tortillas go through one final metal detector to make sure no impurities are in any of them before they are bagged by hand.
"Our tortillas are in the market the day after they are produced," said Craig Fisher, who founded the company in 1994. "They are not boxed. They are put on bread trays, which means a softer, better product."
Another production line makes the less popular but much easier to produce corn tortillas. The company also sells "raw" flour tortillas in frozen food sections that can be heated up fresh at home.
Fisher named the company after his wife Julia, but used the masculine "Don Julio" instead of "Donna Julia."
He also acquired venerable Utah company Clover Club in 2005, a move that had sentimental as well as business meaning to the Fishers, whose son Nate now runs day-to-day operations of the company. Clover Club was a potato chip company that first started in 1938 in the Kaysville kitchen of Hod and Clover Sanders.
"My wife's father was one of the first employees of Clover Club back in 1950," said Fisher. "He became their executive vice president and general manager, so my family has a history with Clover Club."
Don Julio, which also has a line of chips produced in Woods Cross and salsa made in Arizona, picked a good time to get into the Mexican food production business.
According to the Tortilla Industry Association, tortillas were a $10 billion industry in the United States in 2011. Salsa began outselling ketchup in 2008 and tortillas started to outsell white sandwich bread in 2010.
Though the company offers recipes for tortillas on its website, Fisher's favorite way to eat the company's mainstay reflects the simplicity of the product I saw simply made in Mexico.
"I like the 10-second warmed tortilla in the microwave rolled up with peanut butter and jam."
Life doesn't get much simpler than that, which, in the end, is the beauty of the simple tortilla.