She’s the big cheese!
Bigwigs at a foreign dairy cooperative awarded a Sunset Park entrepreneur $15,000 in cash and four months’ worth of mentorship to help her bring what she called her one-of-a-kind, cheese-storage invention to the masses.
“My product is very unique in the international market — nobody else is really making anything like this,” said Jessica Sennet.
Sennett won the prizes from leaders of Canadian dairy cooperative Agropur, who recognized her Cheese Grotto as one of five start-up businesses that the group’s mentors — who include industry experts and business-development coaches — will work to grow during monthly, week-long workshops in Montreal from September through December 2019.
The Cheese Grotto, a structure made of birch, clay brick, and bamboo, comes in three different sizes — costing $125, $250, and $350 — that can hold between two and eight pounds of cheese.
The vessels — which can fit on counter tops and in refrigerators, and are manufactured upstate — extend cheeses’ shelf lives three-to-four times longer than normal, thanks to the airflow and humidity from the grotto’s natural materials, Sennett said.
“It’s like a wine cellar, but for cheese,” she said.
The Brooklynite, who lives on 54th Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues, dreamt up the contraption after spending more than a decade working in the dairy industry and at specialty-cheese shops, adding that she often saw customers at a loss for how to preserve their expensive fromage.
“I saw that people didn’t really have a proper way to store their cheese,” she said. “Half the time people are throwing away a third of the product because they don’t know how to properly handle it.”
Sennett hopes to forge marketing partnerships with other food and cheese-related companies through the cooperative’s so-called “dairy accelerator program,” as well as expand awareness for her product within Kings County and beyond, she said.
“There is an opportunity to work with local specialty stores within Brooklyn, as well as wine bars and restaurants,” she said. “My product can really impact the specialty cheese industry at large.”
And the business owner praised the program for providing critical funding and guidance for small operations, noting how such support can be few and far between in the industry.
“It’s the kind of program that I think is lacking within the dairy industry at large — a lot of people are stuck within the realms of agriculture and even specialty food,” she said.