I'm from the Midwest. I know this fact comes with all types of preconceptions and stereotypes, one of which being that those of us from the middle-section of the country must subsist primarily on the beef and corn that we all raise in our backyards. While I don't mind playing up the "Midwestern Girl" from time to time, the truth is that my hometown is the 15th largest in the country and the closest I've ever been to a cow was at the State Fair. That said, though our supermarkets are unnecessarily enormous, they're pretty much just stocked with the basics--no gourmet pizza bar, no made-to-order sushi, maybe a single aisle labeled "international." This may be why I'm still embarrassingly thrilled to stroll the aisles of supermarkets like Whole Foods and be bombarded by ingredients and condiments that I've never even heard of. I remember when my hometown got its first Whole Foods and my dad just kept telling people, "They have butter! In tins!!" Maybe it runs in the family.
On my last trip to my now-local Whole Foods, I was invited by a friend to try out their "foodie happy hour" with free wine and cheese tastings. After picking up a slab of my currently favorite cheese (Gruyère--possibly one of the few cheeses that is actually worth $11/pound) I wanted some type of cracker to enjoy it with later. In a hurry to beat the after-work crowds, I'll admit that my choice was made in haste and largely driven by the old-world but unfussy appearance of the packaging (when in a hurry, judge a book by it's cover). For $4.99, the six Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas were better than I ever could have imagined.
Because "torta" is the Spanish word for cake, I assumed that these round wafers would be similar to a thin pita bread. But, once I got one torta out of the butcher paper that declared "Las Legítimas Y Acreditadas!" and took my first bite, I knew I'd hit the jackpot. More like a cracker than a pita, these tortas also have a light shine from the olive oil that keeps them ever-so-slightly soft and less brittle than a cracker. This fist bite also immediately made me think of pizelle cookies (those Italian waffle-like cookies from Christmastime) which caused me to take a second look at the ingredients where, just as I suspected, I found the usual suspects--anise seeds and anise essence. Anise is typically what we associate with black licorice but, let me tell you that I HATE black licorice and I am completely in love with these tortas, so the anise flavoring is so light that it compliments the tastes perfectly. Unfortunately, this turn of events meant that my Gruyère had to go cracker-less, but it was a small price to pay to discover my new favorite treat.
If you have a Whole Foods in your neighborhood, or happen to come across a package of these at your local grocery store or cheese shop, buy them immediately. You can thank me later. Based on a recipe created by the real Ines Rosales in Seville, Spain, these tortas are still made according to her 100 year old recipe and, thus, are all natural. The ingredients are wheat flour, EVOO, sugar, baking powder, sesame seeds, anise seeds, salt and anise essence. That's it. Imported all the way from Spain, sold amongst the world's finest cheeses, but a recipe so simple and homespun that I bet even a Midwesterner could handle it :)