Tuesday in Luis Jorquera and Saul Rondon’s kitchen is production day.
That means that today in this bright apartment overlooking the Liberties, they will turn out as many as 450 tequeños.
The kitchen, on the fifth floor of an apartment block near Rialto Luas stop, has a view that catches the several cranes to the west working at the new National Children’s Hospital. Under drab skies to the east is the John Players Factory on South Circular Road.
Before I even sit down, I’m offered a slice of apple crumble by a flatmate’s mother, Rondon offers coffee, and Jorquera is taking pre-prepared dough out of a fridge.
For more than six months, Rondon and Jorquera, who are cousins, have been ramping up production, catering for Venezuelan customers who crave the taste of home, and the growing Latin American restaurant market in Dublin.
But what are tequeños? “The most similar thing you can find here is a cheese stick,” says Jorquera, who moved to Dublin from Venezuela five years ago.
Rather than covering the cheese in breadcrumbs, Jorquera wraps it in dough before dropping it into a pan. The smell of fried batter fills the kitchen.
“The story of this product is they come from weddings and celebrations in Venezuela and you can find it on every tray,” Jorquera says.
Rondon plants a bowl of at least six tequeños, freshly fried, in front of me.
“These are the classic ones,” says Jorquera. “These are just cheese and what we sell the most of.”
Each stick contains cheese from Sabanero, an artisan semi-hard cheese factory located in Galway, which every Saturday delivers at least ten kilos here to the HQ of MyTeques, Jorquera and Rondon’s company.
Luis opens a box filled with prepared cheese cut into rectangular prisms about 6cm long. Each one has been measured and sliced by hand from a larger block.
They’ve tried to find a faster way. But “finding someone that works with steel is complicated”, says Jorquera.
In the corner of the room, beside the kitchen, all the ingredients that go into the tequeños are laid out. Dozens of balls of dough wrapped in cling film. Cornflour, cheese, and baking flour.
Jorquera sifts flour onto the counter and slams the dough on top. He kneads and rolls it into a long thin oblong shape, which stretches over the entire counter.
Next he grabs a pizza cutter, running it swiftly through the stretched dough in slightly curved paths. The pieces he slices off are used to wrap the cheese, before being dipped in cornflour, and laid to rest in a freezer until it’s time for the fryer.
“By serendipity,” says Jorquera, pointing at the cornflour, “I found that this is the best one to use. They [the tequeños] get more dry and they get more crunchy when they’re fried.”
Jorquera knows, however, that cheese isn’t necessarily enough to draw in customers. “Here in Ireland, people like spicy.”
He experiments with Venezuelan finger food, adding chipotle sauce and jalapeños. Rondon hands me two recently fried tequeños. I take a bite. He knows his audience well.
The tequeños have a crisp coating, the cheese is salty and chewy but melted just enough that it oozes. Some have an extra crunch from jalapeños. Others, with guava puree, are surprisingly sweet.
He got the idea for the company from a party his ex. As in Venezuala, he took along some finger food – cheese sticks. “They all disappeared and I said, ‘Hey, people like it,'” he says.
In February, they got a license from the Health Service Executive. They’ve not only been making cheese sticks since then, they’ve also been delivering them, generally by bike. Their most avid customers are generally their fellow Venezuelans, who call around to pick them up.
Right now, Jorquera handles production. Rondon is the numbers guy.
Unless they’re making golfeados, a kind of cinnamon bun with coils of pastry around cheese and aniseed, and jaggery, a golden sugar. Those are Rondon’s specialty.
Rondon takes one out of the freezer. He pops it in the oven.
When it’s warmed through, he grates more of Sabanero’s cheese on top and the smell of cinnamon deceives me – even though I’m already 12 cheese sticks deep – into thinking I’m hungry again.
He hands me one spoon. I indicate we are going to need three.
“He’s on a diet,” Rondon says, pointing to his cousin, before laughing. “Which is difficult living here.”