Start-Up Spot: Say cheese!

Cheese maker Nanny Seyman, as head of the local International Cheese Guild, chooses contestants to represent Israel in the Mondial du Fromage

Nanny’s Cheese (photo credit: PR)
Nanny’s Cheese
(photo credit: PR)
As an innovative and driven entrepreneur, Nanny Seyman has changed the face of Israeli dairy manufacturing companies forever by bringing women in the field into the spotlight.
Born and raised in Israel, Seyman left for Paris at the age of 22 with her husband, Ernest, only to return to Israel 10 years later in 1983.
After a decade in France, Seyman had acquired a new appreciation for gourmet foods, and her French husband missed the quality European dairy products he was brought up with. After years of traveling back and forth every two months between Israel and France, bringing back gourmet dairy products and sharing them with their friends, they realized that this could be a great industry to expand on in Israel.
Their company, A. Seyman Ltd., began as a small importer of gourmet cheeses and dairy products. At first, tight quotas heavily limited imports.
“They only allowed us to import small amounts for ‘special occasions,’” Seyman says.
It wasn’t until 1998, when Israel signed an agricultural agreement to open the food market, that quotas loosened and the Seymans could grow their company. And while there are still quotas today, Seyman has made her mark in Israel, importing products from European companies such as Elle & Vire, Oreo, Lesieur, EntreMont, and Boursin, at affordable prices.
While their story seemed grounded on the idea of expanding the taste of the average Israeli citizen, there’s a bigger outcome: a woman who changed the definition of the role of women in this industry. Seyman has brought other female cheese-makers into the spotlight, led more women into this industry, and let women be the ones who promote Israel’s new and improved dairy industry. The number of women in the trading market continues to grow in this field of work.
“I was the only woman in the trading market in Israel. It was hard because they didn’t know how to work with me.
They’d always say that I’d only last a year until I’d go back to Paris. The men were sure I wouldn’t succeed,” Seyman says.
The men alongside her were exclusive in the trade. They had mannerisms and aggressive working methods in the workplace that Seyman was not easily able to relate to, nor were they approachable. Seyman prides herself on her feminine charisma and welcoming personality; she didn’t want to compromise who she is just to enter this boys club. Her feelings of exclusion motivated her to succeed.
Today, Seyman is the CEO and co-owner of the family business, and she has created her own private label, “Nanny’s Cheese.”
She plays a huge role in publicizing and expanding the gourmet world in Israel by heading the International Cheese Guild in the country. This position means that she had the ability to choose contestants to represent Israel in the Mondial du Fromage, and by doing so she brought female cheese makers into the spotlight.
Mondial du Fromage is an annual international cheese competition in the Loire Valley in France. This year’s competition took place in June. Seyman traveled Israel for around a year, visiting dairy farms to decide who would be best fit to participate in this year’s competition and represent the gourmet world of Israel.
Shirat Ro’im, owned by Michal Mor- Melamed, is one of the two dairy companies chosen by Seyman to compete in Mondial du Fromage.
When reminiscing on Shirat Ro’im’s history, Mor-Melamed described its beginning. After experiencing a small taste of the cheese-maker world in the Swiss Alps, Mor-Melamed decided to make a change in her life. She had been a speech therapist for over two decades, but after this realization in the Alps, she began to pursue her new dream, which was owning a successful dairy farm.
Mor-Melamed purchased land in Kfar Kisch in the Galilee and built what is today the Shirat Ro’im dairy farm.
This company, under Mor-Melamed’s ownership and with the help of Nirit Diga, her assistant, won five separate medals at the competition, ranging from first to third place, in sections as broad as hard sheep’s milk cheese and as specific as sheep’s milk cheese with truffles. It was an accomplishment for women in a male-dominated field.
“Most of the cheese makers in the world are men because it is also physical work,” Mor-Melamed says. But she adds that “women make cheese better because they work with their muscles and their head.” She went on to describe the daily schedule, strict return, and precise care that she and Diga give to their cheese.
Cheese making is a lot of physical labor, from herding animals on many hectares of land to milking them, creating and tending to the cheese daily as it ages, right up to the process of packaging and shipping the finished products.
Mor-Melamed has also turned Shirat Ro’im into a tourist destination. The storeroom is open on weekends and holidays, and visitors can tour the dairy farm and participate in either individual or group cheese tastings as well as meetings with Mor-Melamed.
Similarly, Ein Camonim, currently owned by Peleg Ovruezki, was founded with the help of a woman, his mother.
In the 1980s, Drora Ovruezki and her husband, Amiram Ovruezki, began with the dream of owning a duck farm.
When the project didn’t succeed, the Ovruezkis found themselves with nothing but the land they had bought and major debt. In an attempt to support the family without going deeper into debt, the Ovruezkis looked to the land they stood on.
As a result, Amiram and Drora purchased a few goats and began experimenting with dairy products.
From that moment on, the family business was created. Peleg described the farm’s founding as a result of the perfect balancing relationship.
“My father is about the drive, but [they couldn’t have done it without] the talent of my mother,” he said.
Ein Camonim also participated in Mondial du Fromage after being invited by Seyman. The company won two “super gold” medals. That means that among all the gold medals in different sections of the competition, their cheeses were voted the best among the contestants, particularly one created by Drora.
The Ovruezki dairy farm is located in Ein Camonim, also in the Galilee. It includes a gift store, a dairy restaurant and an olive press on the dairy farm. The farm is open every day of the week.
Seyman has brought a change in taste and in norm. Israelis can now taste quality and fresh dairy products that are produced all over the world and imported by her company. Israeli women are starting to defy the norms and are joining work fields that are predominantly male. What is more, these women have become the faces of gourmet dairy products all over Israel.