December 2, 2023

Red Head Creamery and Cheese Grotto

In this episode of Makers of Minnesota, host Stephanie sits down with two powerhouse women in the cheese industry: Jessica Sennett from Cheese Grotto and Alise Sjostrom from Redhead Creamery. They dive into a collaboration between their companies, sharing how they came together to create unique cheese products. From the production process to the experience of enjoying their cheeses, they discuss the intricacies of artisanal cheese-making and the exciting developments in the industry. Join us as we explore the world of cheese with these innovative and passionate entrepreneurs.




Stephanie [00:00:15]:

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the podcast. We are talking with 2 powerful women today in the cheese world. We’re talking with Jessica Sennett from Cheese Grotto and our friend Alise Sjostrom from Redhead Creamery. Alise fromRed Head Creamery has been on the program before. Jessica, this is your first time. Welcome.

Jessica [00:00:35]:


Yes. Thank you. Thank you for having us.

Stephanie [00:00:38]:

Okay. You guys are in collaboration. And tell us a little bit about your meeting and how this collaboration started.

Jessica [00:00:46]:

Oh, yeah. So so, yeah, it’s probably the the fastest, collaboration known to man in terms of, us both Being on the same page, which which was awesome. I yeah. So cheese grotto a Little bit about what we do. You know, we we do have our cheese grotto, which is the namesake of the company. It’s a humidor for storing and serving Cheese and we make them in the Catskills in New York as well as in, Ohio. There’s, the bricks That humidify. These cheese grottoes are made in Ohio.

Jessica [00:01:24]:

And, essentially, they act as a humidor for prolonging the shelf’s life of cheese. And we started, selling and partnering up with American Artisan Cheesemakers about 5 years ago. And once the pandemic hit, it really helped, you know, Bloom Art subscription program

Stephanie [00:01:47]:


Jessica [00:01:48]:

As well as virtual tastings and gift boxes. And we focus on American artisans Because, you know, we really love to, to support what’s going on regionally because there’s, like, so many amazing cheeses now that are being made. And, you know, Redhead Creamery and Elise has, just all have been wonderful, partner in our Different cheese programs for a few years now and believed in us when we were first getting started on the cheese side as well. And so, you know, this year, we have been collaborating more, with different makers to create some unique, limited, edition products. And her her little Lucy Brie is is incredible. It’s this Taller format breeze style that has a very unique way that it ripens. And so you get really nice varied texture both, like, A little bit of a denser center when it’s a little bit younger and then, like, a beautiful cream line right underneath, the rind. And so I reached out to her about Potentially doing a holiday version of, the little Lucy Brie.

Jessica [00:03:00]:

And Yeah. Immediately, we were like, how about herbs? Because herbs are, like, such a huge part of, you know, the, holiday time and just Bringing a brightness and herbaceous quality to a lot of our foods, and also baked brie is a huge thing, this time of the year. And a lot of times, there’s a lot of toppings of, of, of herbs that go into different baked Brie recipes. So, so, yeah, we we just went back and forth, very quickly via email and, decided that, Herbes de Provence, that would be a great thing to to feature. A nice varied eclectic mix that really represents the holiday season. And, and Elise did some testing with it. And, yeah, I’d love to hear more about like, so on Elise’s side, I know that she, Tried a couple different test batches of the cheese, but first, we put the herbs on the rind, and then eventually it ended up being Infused into the pace, which is, like, beautifully balanced, though. I’d love to hear about how she got to that too.

Stephanie [00:04:09]:

Yeah. I would too because it was so, like, Natural. Like, when I had it, I was like, oh, yeah. Of course. I can’t believe this hasn’t that she hasn’t done this before Because, Elise, you’re so, like, revolutionary, I think, just in making cheese and the way that you view your Marketing of cheese, and little Lucy has been such a fan favorite for so long. So, yeah, I am curious how, like, All of a sudden, like, why hadn’t we thought of this before?

Alise [00:04:40]:

Yeah. So I think the day that we were, collaborate collaborating back and forth. I was actually on a fall vacation with my husband up in Door County, And he was also working, and I had to I just sat at my desk for a little bit, and that’s what we did all day is decide what we were doing with this herb brie, but I we’ve played with our little Lucy brie a little bit and didn’t really go farther with it. We’ve tried a, Chipotle line in the middle or played with ash because it’s just the cool thing to do. Yep. And I knew that herb would taste good. And so When we kind of brainstorm back and forth, I knew I had some on hand in our shop that I could play with immediately. And so That was a big reason why I recommended it right away so that we could act quickly.

Alise [00:05:31]:

And, yeah, it was really fun. So we Did 3 or 4 different varieties, to see what tasted best, and if they got heated up, which melted best. Some of them, We tried to do the the line in the middle of the wheel with herbs, and we smothered the mold after the cheese had ripened. We smothered that with herbs, and then the infused version, actually is the easiest for making it also. And I’m always trying to go for that because I hate when I create something and then everyone hates that we have to keep making it because it goes well. So we actually, put the herb dry herbs in with the curds and whey and then, mold you You know, pour the curd in the mold that way, and it all just evenly distributes within. We let it soak for a little bit just to Infuse that flavor a little bit, but, it’s awesomely pretty simple on our end, and we are really excited about the results of it, and I’m always excited to do something fun and collaborate with other people, especially Jessica because we have, like, a fun relationship, and it’s been cool to see where this goes.

Stephanie [00:06:48]:

So, Jessica, in addition to the storing of the cheese in your very, Scientifically beautiful wood grotto for the countertop. When you think about, like, a cheese subscription, Who do you think is the ideal candidate for it?

Jessica [00:07:06]:

No. It’s a it’s a great question. We we have a couple Subscriptions that we do on our website. So we have one that is more curated, monthly pairings. So you can opt to choose with pairings or without, and we we have a theme each month that we decide on, That helps us kind of curate and highlight specific styles of cheese from different makers. And then, you know, we find some really great pairing to kinda bring that to life. So, actually, the the herbs that we see is part of our December, holiday themed box, Which makes sense because we’re also including a baked Brie recipe with that, so that you can, you know, Create a very, one of a kind, I would say, type of baked brie, than maybe what you have experienced before. It’s a very It it looks like a popover almost.

Jessica [00:08:02]:

It’s very, beautiful, but because it’s a little bit on the taller side. So, You know, for the monthly, I would say, you know and really, like, with both of our subscriptions, we have a quarterly one as well. It’s really about, My my my main thought about the best person, for signing up for a subscription is someone who is interested in in learning more and pursuing more, in the world of artisan cheese and exposing themselves to different styles of cheese that they might not have, necessarily opted for, on their own or maybe couldn’t find in their local grocery store. And that’s really what we’re looking for is To curate, you know, unique, you know, palatable, but also diverse styles of cheeses from different makers so that you can get a really full spectrum of what, yeah, American and artisan cheese has to offer. I mean, we’re we’re in the thousands of different Cheeses, it’s time now that you can explore, so there’s definitely not, like, a cap in terms of how many cheeses you could try. So that’s really, you know, somebody who’s who’s curious, who’s, enthusiastic, but wants to get a little bit deeper into it. That’s that’s what what I’d recommend.

Alise [00:09:19]:

I love it.

Jessica [00:09:21]:

Yeah. And we the other one we have is a quarterly subscription, which we actually have done with Elise in the past as well. It’s, meet the maker. So we did a session. We do 4 4 shipments per year where we actually Sit down live with the cheese maker, and they get to do a deep dive into 4 cheeses from 1 maker. So that’s got a really cool immersive element on that as well. So even with the quarterly, I would say the, really just to kind of elevate and and and enhance your own understanding of cheese, it really is a great opportunity to do that and, pursue it a little bit more like a hobby.

Stephanie [00:09:58]:

Elise, I have a confession, and it’s gonna make you laugh. So I do like to make a brie. Yeah. I like to make it on croute. Right? I like to wrap it in puff pastry, but I always would buy Cheap Brie because I felt so bad using, like, your delicious product in something Kinda so pedestrian, but I feel like this is giving me, like, a new opportunity to explore it. Because do you heat up your own Brie? I felt like that was almost like a sacrilege.

Alise [00:10:34]:

Well, here’s what now you’ll laugh at me because Sometimes in the rare occasion that I’m home alone, I’ll be like, well, not making dinner for anybody, but I’ll have random cheese in my fridge. And so I microwaved a brie and put jam all over it, and I was like, why didn’t I think of this a long time ago? I could just microwave it. But so I like, more often than not, I eat it plain like, I don’t cook it, but, Yeah. It’s you know what? You do you.

Stephanie [00:11:05]:

Yeah. And there’s, like, something about holiday time. You know, I do a ton of entertaining, and Just a brie warmed up with either preserves on it or uncrut and wrapped up is Really elegant, lovely, a nice way to serve cheese that’s a little bit different that maybe people wouldn’t do themselves that feels fancier.

Alise [00:11:28]:

Yes. Absolutely.

Stephanie [00:11:30]:

So alright. I feel like this has opened new doors for me. And I always do I am a person that has a holiday cheese vibe. So I will seek out, special holiday cheeses from local makers that only come out this time of year, And I’ll, you know, pay a lot more to put them on my table because I know that they’re special and they’re custom. So this feels like this could be something that could really take off for you, and then you’re gonna have that problem like you do with all your cheeses where you’re gonna have to make so much of it.

Alise [00:12:04]:

I’m okay with that.

Stephanie [00:12:07]:

Elise, how’s the store going? And get our listeners up to speed. You guys have expanded.

Alise [00:12:12]:

Yes. We’re in the middle of expansion. I don’t know if you can hear the rumbling at all in my background, but, Everything’s going great. We’re our expansion project’s a little bit slower than we anticipated, but it always is. And so we’re hoping that we will be, making spirits by February. Fingers crossed. But we’ll have more so of a full restaurant and our distilled spirits with whey. So we’re really excited to get everything up and rolling,

Stephanie [00:12:44]:

maybe when the

Alise [00:12:45]:

snow is gone.

Stephanie [00:12:46]:

Yeah. And you’ve got the store too.

Alise [00:12:48]:

Yes. We have a cheese shop, and we do dairy farm tours. And, we serve our pan fried curds that are extremely popular, especially when it’s cold out. And we now have, robotic milkers for the last month, so that’s a fun new thing to come check out if you go on our farm tours.

Stephanie [00:13:08]:

Does that Free up you guys because they always talk about how labor intensive dairy cows are. And

Alise [00:13:16]:

Yeah. It will eventually. The the onboarding process is tiring and difficult for both the cows and the humans getting them trained. But, yes, that is the end goal is that it will free up some of that time and allow us to be a little more flexible with how we spend our time.

Stephanie [00:13:35]:

And for those of you that maybe are new to the program or not familiar with Redhead Creamery, Elise is the daughter of dairy farmers, and She decided she wanted to take the cheese angle versus just the dairy angle and really has Created a whole more elaborate successful business for your family. How many people do you employ now?

Alise [00:14:00]:

We have about 12 employees.

Stephanie [00:14:03]:

And if you add, like, the restaurant and the distillery, that’s gotta add, like, I’m thinking at least 40 more.

Alise [00:14:09]:

Oh, well, I don’t think it’ll add that many more. The distillery itself will add my husband will be our distiller, And we’ll all kind of team up when it’s bottling day. And then but we’ll need the help for the restaurant side of things, serving, and all of that.

Stephanie [00:14:27]:

When is anyone else making, spirits out of whey?

Alise [00:14:32]:

There’s about 9 to 10 other makers in the world that are making It’s out of way. We will be one of the only that do everything on-site, having the cows, the cheese, And the spirit’s all right here.

Stephanie [00:14:46]:

Oh, I’m so excited. Like, it’s just that whole closed loop system that I feel like it’s just the jazziest of jazzy food lore. Right? I mean, just what an awesome story. I cannot wait for it. You guys have been super fun to talk to. Are there any things that are happening in the food world that you’re like, Oh, you gotta know about this, or I’m so excited about this right now. No. Nothing like putting you on the spot.

Stephanie [00:15:18]:

I mean, you’re both just, like, staring Likely, like, I don’t know. We’re in holiday season. What are you thinking, lady? Surviving.

Jessica [00:15:27]:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, I don’t know. I mean, you know, I I think it’s just you have to keep encouraging you to keep exploring locally what’s going on food wise. Jessica.

Stephanie [00:15:39]:

I’m gonna help you out. Okay. So tell me the last delicious thing you ate or drank that was not your own product. And you weren’t gonna eat a cheese grotto, so there’s that. Yeah. Yeah.

Jessica [00:15:56]:

Let’s see. What would you know, I’m really into, Pastis. Tell me about them. Yeah. We went to I mean, we went to France Back in September, and, basically, every single region of France has its multiple versions of pasties. But a lot of times, you know, there’s, yeah, there’s one, like, From the. There’s one from all these different regions, and it is really just an amazing, amazing spirit that I, like, never really got into before. But, you know, I think actually a pastiche and cheese pairing would be Pretty fun too.

Jessica [00:16:38]:

You know, speaking of, you know, more of these more herbaceous, like, flavor profiles, like The the anise that you’re getting from from the pasties is really amazing and, just, you know, the variety. But I’m also very curious, I have to say, about the flavor profile of the distilled whey. Like, what what is that like?

Stephanie [00:16:59]:

Yeah. And it has me thinking about, like, aqua vie too. Like, these seasonal, herbaceous, botanically spirits.

Jessica [00:17:08]:

Yes. Yeah.

Alise [00:17:09]:

So it’s it is a a neutral spirit for the most part, but it it does have a creamy mouthfeel to it. I’m still not sure how to really fully explain the actual flavor of it. We have about, oh, what is it, maybe 10 gallons of spirit that a distiller has done for us out of our fermented way so that we have something when we actually open. But, Along the lines of, you know, Aquavit is something that we hope to eventually make and a gin and then a barrel aged version of it as well just because you can. But, but, yeah, it’ll it’ll be fun, and we’re excited for our our restaurant cocktail room because every drink will come with A wedge of cheese with it, so we’ll get to figure out how everything tastes with cocktail.

Stephanie [00:18:00]:

Have you ever had the sugar beet vodka?

Alise [00:18:05]:

I don’t know. Well, Molly, I think I have. What’s the name of the

Stephanie [00:18:09]:

b e t is the one that I know of that’s made in Minnesota. And I would I would encourage you to check that out. Mhmm. The only reason I think of it is when you talk about, like, a creamier mouthfeel, There’s a richness to that vodka.

Alise [00:18:25]:

Should I That nothing that I

Stephanie [00:18:28]:

is just something that feels, I don’t know. It feels like a very different mouthfeel, and it is when you talk about, like, a creamy richness, it just sticks in my brain. And I’d like you to try that because I think maybe it would give you something similar just to think about.

Alise [00:18:48]:

Cool. Yeah. I’m gonna look it. My husband has probably tried it.

Stephanie [00:18:51]:

Yeah. It’s just cool and it’s made with sugar beets, which is a little bit different. You know, potato butts are a little bit different. So Mhmm. Well, you guys, have been great. Are you gonna have so how can people order the cheese? And if they wanna come down, will they find it at Redhead Creamery too, or can is it just in the subscription?

Jessica [00:19:11]:

Yeah. Right now, we just have it we have it, 2 different ways on the Sites on cheese grotto’s website. So we have it, both in the subscription, the December box. We also have a set of 2 that you can just independently or really just add on to any cheese order. You know, my recommendation when you purchase Cheese online is just buy more because the shipping is a little is always a little bit more expensive. Right. Just because it has to go express, it has to be insulated. It’s perishable.

Jessica [00:19:46]:

It has ice packs. And we do nationwide shipping. So, So that’s my that is my main recommendation. Just try just try a little bit more, when you when you go to shop online.

Stephanie [00:20:00]:

So I love that recommendation. Nothing wrong with that. I actually ended up with a 100 pounds of cheese in my freezer right now Wow. That I had to, like, break down. A friend ended up getting a £1,000 of Gruyere and Jarlsberg instead of the 100 that she ordered, and it came from overseas. So they couldn’t take it back. So she is like giving cheese to everyone she knows and I have like a literal half a freezer full of cheese right now. Not a bad problem to have.

Stephanie [00:20:32]:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jessica [00:20:33]:

Full of it. You’re stocked. You gotta get your preserves back there. You got your cheese.

Stephanie [00:20:38]:

I’m all set. Or anything. Elise, are you doing anything for holidays that you want people to know about before we wrap up?

Alise [00:20:45]:

But, yeah, we have, along with what we’re doing with Jessica, we also have our 12 days of Cheez Miss calendar That is our 2nd annual year of doing, and it’s really exciting. It’s partnering with Milkmaid Catering in Fargo. Megan is a friend of mine, and we collaborate on utilizing our cheeses for the 12 days and then pairing each Cheese with a fun side. So, there’s Minnesota made beets and, honey butter and Other fun things that go really good with cheese.

Stephanie [00:21:18]:

Sweet. I love it. I’ll put links to all of these things in the show notes. You guys, thanks for being my guest today. I appreciate it.

Jessica [00:21:25]:

Oh, yes. Thank you for having us.

Stephanie [00:21:27]:

Alright. We’ll catch up soon. Happy holidays.

Alise [00:21:30]:

You too.