Where there’s a will, there’s whey: Two women entrepreneurs building a responsible artisanal cheese brand
Chennai-based startup Käse Cheese was started by women entrepreneurs Anuradha Krishnamoorthy and Namrata Sundaresan in 2016. Six years on, it is not just known for its uniquely flavoured cheese varieties, but also for ethical sourcing of milk from pastoral communities.
In early 2016, when social entrepreneur Anuradha Krishnamoorthy and management consultant Namrata Sundaresan—the co-founders of—first started making small batches of artisanal cheese in Chennai, the intention was to help two hearing-impaired girls learn a new skill to gain employment.
“We didn’t really hear much about cheese then as we do now. We found a neighbourhood doodhwalla who sold us batches of five litres of milk, and we would work on that at the pantry in Anuradha’s husband, Praveen's office,” says Namrata, a passionate cook who had just returned from a farm holiday in Coonoor where she had a brief exposure to cheesemaking.
After three weeks of trial and error, the duo ended up making a lot of fresh cheese.
“So we invited a bunch of friends and family and made salads, 18 varieties of cheesecake, and other things,” Namrata tells HerStory.
The impromptu cheese tasting party was such a hit that Anuradha and Namrata gradually began to wonder if there was more to the story.
Around the time, farmers’ markets and pop-ups were gaining ground in Chennai, and that’s when the duo got a call that gave them the required push.
The call was from none other than celebrity chef Karen Anand, whose team got in touch to seek the pair’s participation in the latest farmers’ market.
While preparing for the event, Anuradha and Namrata realised it was time they branded their passion project.
“Anu’s husband Praveen came up with the name Käse (pronounced kɛːzə), as he had lived in Germany, and he knew Käse was cheese in German. We came up with the smiling cow logo overnight, and the website was designed on a Word document that went up on WordPress and finally became a website,” chuckles Namrata. This was September 2016.
From then on, there was no looking back, as the women were invited to present their cheese in popular Chennai events like the Duchess Utsav, By Hand From The Heart and others.
Say cheese to cheese
In India, think cheese, and one invariably has images of processed cheese being spread on a hot chappathi or toast. In recent years, mozzarella has found a space for itself with pizza-loving youngsters going all out in trying homemade pizzas and their variants.
But as they say, the times are a-changing, and a rising cosmopolitan culture and well-travelled consumer segment have seen the rise of cheese platters like never before. Be it the bland but creamy Gouda, the pale and greyish Brie, the mellow but intensely tasty Cheddar or marinated and flavoured cheese–aged or artisan cheese has found its stock rising.
“Artisan cheese as a category is not really understood but it is changing slowly. Earlier, cheese was generally perceived as plain and boring, and more as an accessory. That’s why we decided to infuse local flavours into it,” says Namrata.
She sure wasn’t kidding as these flavours were as local as they could get and ranged from turmeric leaf-wrapped goat cheese and milagai podi crusted cheese to moringa crusted feta.
India is known to be the world’s largest producer of milk, and yet, cheese has largely remained in the shadow of its desi cousin–paneer (cottage cheese). Similarly, other milk products being made for generations in India have seen much innovation and literature dedicated to it–like the traditional sweet recipe from Tamil Nadu, the palkova.
“Our ‘Ricotta with Apricots stewed in Honey’ is the only sweet thing in our product range. People who tasted it always said this is really yummy palkova,” laughs Namrata, adding that to date, the brand’s toughest competitor continues to be the paneer.
Käse is primarily a D2C brand, but it also has about 30 odd B2B (business-to-business) partners across India. The company is also big on subscriptions with about three different subscription plans for cheese lovers.
Like many other D2C brands across categories, Käse too saw massive growth during the pandemic period. “When the lockdown was announced overnight, we had about 1000 kgs of aged cheese in stock. Luckily, one of our helper ladies lived nearby and she would go once a day to keep a check on the quality and churn it if necessary.”
The entrepreneurs have invested in visi (visible) coolers as refrigerators tend to be too cold and moist for storing such large stock of cheese.
Six years from the day the first batch of fresh cheese was made, Käse Cheese now is a template for running a responsible business that has society, economy, and environment at the core of its business.
The company works with pastoral communities in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu to ethically source the milk, and employs marginally backward women in its Chennai unit.
“When we started thinking of scaling, the idea was not to scale in one place. Also, we wanted ethically sourced milk, and only a few farms did that. That’s how we got in touch with the Centre for Pastoralism. We collaborated with them to set up cheesemaking units there, and now work with pastoral communities in Gujarat and Rajasthan,” says Namrata, who has over the years trained as a cheesemaker, and travelled across the world to learn the traditional forms of cheese-making. She continues to travel once a month to the units to keep up the training of personnel working in these units.
The pastoral communities that Käse works with in Gujarat are Rabadis, who rear sheep and goats, and camel breeders Raikas in Rajasthan. In Tamil Nadu, the company has a unit in Maduranthakam, which is about 100 kms south of Chennai.
“Traditionally, camel milk has never been sold commercially, and it has only been available to camel herders. Now with the camel trade and meat both being banned, camel herders are seeing some very tough times, and they have no real source of income in the dry and arid regions they are in. The only thing that they have that they can actually sell is camel milk. Modern-day research has shown that camel milk is hugely nutritious and high in antioxidants. We’ve started experimenting with small batches of camel milk, where we make fresh and soft cheese with it,” says Namrata.
When Käse first started, it was just the two co-founders and two girls who were being trained, working out of Anuradha’s husband Praveen’s office space in Alwarpet, Chennai. Today, the startup, which has seven employees in total in Chennai, is a well-known D2C (direct-to-consumer) brand for cheese lovers in the country who come from as far as a village in Punjab and a northern town in Uttar Pradesh.
“Our returning customer base is really high. That keeps us going through even the leanest periods,” says Namrata.
Anuradha and Namrata's efforts to train and skill different-abled girls did not go unnoticed. The pair were the recipients of the Nari Shakti Puraskar 2017, which is an annual award given by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to individual women or to institutions that work towards the cause of women's empowerment.
Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti