Last month, April Moulaert and her husband Azur took a leap of faith. The two scientists made a career change by opening the Vermont Tortilla Company at the Vermont Artisan Village in Shelburne. The couple already have several wholesale accounts, and they open their doors to retail customers every Wednesday afternoon.
April Moulaert is excited about the new business venture. “My husband and I have both been very interested in food,” she said. “His master’s degree is in crop science and mine is in soil science, and we both studied sustainable agriculture but couldn’t find jobs in the field. We were looking for a way to reinvent ourselves.”
The two travel annually to Mexico and love Mexican cuisine, but they were stymied in their attempts to find good Mexican tortillas in Vermont. So they set to work baking their own. “We wanted to take control of what we were doing,” Moulaert said “and thought we could combine our love of food with our love of local, sustainable agriculture.”
Moulaert spent several years as a wetlands ecologist with the state of Vermont before opening North Woods Ecological Consulting, where she continues to work part-time, but Azur has decided to devote all his energies to the Vermont Tortilla Company. The couple sells their tortillas to Shelburne Supermarket, Healthy Living, Lantmans, Pete’s Greens, Commodore’s Market in Stowe, and Sweet Clover in Essex, and will be adding City Market to their list of outlets in the fall. They also sell to several local restaurants including Penny Cluse, Mexicali, and El Gato Cantina.
Zoning restricts the amount of retail sales available to the company. They have no road frontage and aren’t allowed to put their name on the Vermont Artisan Village sign, but that hasn’t deterred visitors from stopping by on Wednesday afternoons when tortillas are sold fresh out of the oven. The couple currently bakes once a week, but as their business expands they will probably add a second baking day and will sell tortillas directly to customers on that day as well.
Moulaert is looking for a Vermont producer of corn grain, but said that it is difficult to find a large-scale producer of organic corn in the Green Mountain State. The company currently buys its grain from just across Lake Champlain in Essex, NY. Their tortillas are made through a process called nixtamalization. They start with gluten-free, GMO-free, vegan corn grain and add only water and food-grade lime. “It’s super healthy,” Moulaert said “and it has a unique flavor.” Moulaert explained that most American tortillas are made from flour rather than corn grain, and even those made with corn tend to have additional wheat. “When you smell our tortillas you can really smell the corn,” she said.
Moulaert is optimistic her company’s tortillas will catch on and the couple will be able to find more retail establishments and restaurants, as well as expand the hours for visitors to come by their business.
“In Vermont people value good food,” she said. “There is a localvore movement which is among the strongest in the nation and a strong organic food movement. We’re hoping that combination is enough to keep us afloat.”