The Mixing Bowl spoke with Celina Aldaz-Grife of Celina’s Biscochitos. Celina and her husband use the Mixing Bowl kitchen to make biscochitos that are authentically New Mexican.
Can you tell me about your background and what led you to start Celina’s Biscochitos?
“I previously worked in real estate for 15 years with my husband. During my first year, I decided to bake biscochitos for each of my clients as a small gift for Christmas. It was easy since I didn’t have many clients starting out, but each year after I found myself making more and more biscochitos. It had expanded to the point where I was making my biscochitos for friends of friends and for the friends of my clients. I realized that I was making biscochitos for people I didn’t even know and if I was to continue making biscochitos at this level, I needed to start a legitimate business.”
“My husband agreed with me that it was time to “go legitimate” and we started at the Mixing Bowl in the fall of 2010. We initially made the cookies only for the holiday season, but our success that year encouraged us to continue growing our business. In 2011 we started doing food shows, added a Facebook page and a website which has helped our sales continue to grow. In July of 2012, my husband and I decided to begin operating the company year round. The local real estate market has continued to be slow and since our biscochitos are clearly successful, now was the time to take the business to the next level as biscochitos were selling, but real estate was not. In fact, I left real estate for good on January 1st to focus one hundred percent on making biscochitos.”
Can you describe your product and what sets your biscochitos a part from your competitors?
“Compared to our competitors, our biscochitos are more authentic because we use a traditional New Mexican recipe. We use a recipe handed down from my Grandma Maggie. My customers tell me that our biscochitos remind them of the biscochitos made by their mother or grandmother when they were young. Our biscochitos are a quarter inch thick; if you make the cookie any thicker it isn’t really a biscochito. We also don’t toast our biscochitos like some of our competitors do as a traditional biscochito isn’t toasted. Finally we don’t add cinnamon and anise before baking the cookie; we add it after the cookie is baked to keep our biscochito as authentic as possible.”
Is there anything else that makes your biscochitos unique?
“The key ingredient in our biscochitos that our competitors often leave out is lard. Lard is necessary for making an authentic biscochito. Using substitute ingredients such as vegetable oil or butter doesn’t give you the same “melt in your mouth” sensation that you get with lard. It isn’t an authentic biscochito if it isn’t made with lard. I have been making biscochitos long enough that I can tell when lard is not used because the dough doesn’t feel right. We also use brandy to add flavor to our biscochitos.”
Is brandy a traditional ingredient in biscochitos?
“Adding brandy was part of my Grandma’s recipe. Some people add orange juice or wine to their cookies, but adding brandy is part of my family’s recipe.”
What challenges have you faced since you started your business?
“This January I was experimenting with a red chile biscochito. I had perfected the recipe and was getting ready to launch it when I was told by the health department that I couldn’t sell my red chile biscochitos. I was planning on using regular red chile powder, but apparently in order to use it on backed goods the chile powder needs to undergo a special process approved by the USDA. I called around and no red chile producers in New Mexico use the required process. I really want to use New Mexican red chile for my biscochitos, and I am still working out the steps I need to take to be able to do that.”
“We have also had requests from customers to make biscochitos without lard. I try to handle these requests respectfully, but I have always had to politely turn those customers down. Again, I only make traditional biscochitos and traditional biscochitos are only made with lard. Some customers have also asked for a gluten-free version of our biscochitos. I have been unable to find suitable gluten-free flour so I have had to turn those customers down too.”
Do you have any other non-traditional biscochitos in development?
“I am developing a lemon-white chocolate biscochito”
How did you come up with that pairing?
“I accidently stumbled upon it while baking at the Mixing Bowl. Stephen Whitman of Choco Canyon Artisan Chocolate was also in the kitchen and he asked if he could experiment by spreading some of his lemon-white chocolate filling on my biscochitos. I don’t know what it was, but the lemon-white chocolate combined with the cinnamon and anise to make a delicious combination.”
What message would you like people to take away from this interview?
“At Celina’s Biscochitos we make the most authentic, melt in your mouth biscochitos in New Mexico. We are committed to making sure our biscochitos are as special to you as they are to us.”
You can learn more about Celina’s Biscochitos at her website, http://www.celinasbiscochitos.com/ or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Celinas-Biscochitos/161663243875288.