About 16 years ago, I lost my hungry heart to a flour tortilla. I was in the small town of Las Vegas N.M., at Charlie’s Spic & Span Café, when a server placed a basket on the table. Inside was a stack of thick, charmingly floppy tortillas, dotted with browned bubbles and closer in thickness to pancakes than the wan, flaccid discs I was used to at the supermarket. My Brooklyn-by-way-of-Michigan palate was infatuated: What magic was this? How could I not have known that tortillas like these existed?
Once I headed back east, I faced a vexing problem. I could find thin flour tortillas in every grocery store. But I couldn’t find the thick, blistered ones ones. Even as time passed and the foodie revolution took hold, the problem remained: The flour tortillas I encountered were only thin, often reduced, distressingly, to “wraps.”
Part of the problem was that I’d fallen in love with a regional specialty product. Thick flour tortillas are “so specific to the region of New Mexico that [they] didn’t popularize,” says Maribel Alvarez, public folklorist at the University of Arizona.
If you follow the cheese world on Instagram, you might have seen some of these striking cheese boards on feeds like That Cheese Plate or regrammed by yours truly at Cheese Notes. These beautiful edible constructions are the work of Lilith Spencer, currently cheesemonger at Cheesemongers of Santa Fe in New Mexico (@cheesemonggrrl on Instagram).
she got her start as a monger in NYC, and could be found behind the counter at shops like Brooklyn Larder, working the Vulto Creamery stand at the farmer’s markets, or competing at the Cheesemonger Invitational. Recently I had a chance to catch up with her and ask her about the boards, the cheese scene in Santa Fe, Georgia O’Keefe’s influence on her plating, and more.