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By Jacob Pucci
  • Center of Excellence in Food and Agriculture
  • Cornell AgriTech
  • Cornell Food Venture Center
Edenesque, a finalist in the 2022 Grow-NY food business competition, is working with the Center of Excellence (CoE) to scale up the production of its gourmet nut-based milks.

Leslie Woodward founded Edenesque with the same mantra she followed during her two-decade career as a chef in some of New York’s finest restaurants – source ingredients locally and make high-quality foods that are delicious and good for you.

Woodward, who also has a background in holistic nutrition, began making cold-pressed juices and nut-based milks for her nutritional consulting clients. She sold the juices and milks at area farmers markets, to rave reviews. Along the way, she discovered she was passionate about making the nut-based milks.

It was hard work, but she enjoyed it. So much so that she eventually stopped making juice and turned her full attention to nut-based milks. Soon she grew from farmers markets into retail stores and cafes in New York City and the Hudson Valley, including Jean-Georges and Zabar’s.

Growing at the Pilot Plant

Unlike most nut milks sold at supermarkets, which typically contain between 2-7% nuts, Woodward’s products contain up to 20% of the main ingredient, whether its oat, almond or pistachio. The result is creamy milk that’s far richer and more flavorful than its competitors.

Woodward had a winner on her hands. She presented at the 2022 Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City and later that year, was named a finalist in the Grow-NY food business competition.

That connection led her to the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech. She’s worked with the Cornell Food Venture Center (CFVC) on scheduled processes for her various products and at the end of 2022, visited the CFVC Pilot Plant to work with Cornell food experts on fine-tuning her recipe and producing a large batch of milk.

“The Pilot Plant is a great place to affordably test out products,” Woodward said.

Expanding the mission

Edenesque’s current product line includes three types of oat milk – one unsweetened, a creamy barista blend and a Mexican chocolate version, two types of almond milk – one unsweetened and another flavored with vanilla bean and New York honey, and two types of pistachio milk – one unsweetened and the other lightly sweetened and flavored with cardamom and other spices.

Woodward said her culinary background played a key role in flavor development.

Her ambition is to grow Edenesque national and to do that, she knows she needs to make her milk shelf-stable. With the support of the CoE, Woodward is currently working with Steuben Foods in Elma, New York to adapt her recipe into something that can be produced on a far greater scale. 

Woodward expects the first round of trials to be completed this summer.

“This is very exciting,” she said.

Cornell's support

Woodward also participated in the Food Spark program this spring. A collaboration between the CoE and the Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park (Tech Farm), Food Spark offers promising food entrepreneurs participation in the eCornell Food Product Development Certificate program.

Woodward credited her completion of the Food Spark program with helping her understand the process it takes to safely produce food products on a large scale.

“Food Spark allowed me to understand the science behind it on a more granular level,” she said.

Woodward said her next step is to have Edenesque milks at more specialty grocery stores, universities and cafes. Wherever there are places where people are looking to purchase plant-based milk, she wants Edenesque to be there. Within a few years, she plans to scale nationally.

The CoE will be there each step of the way.

“The CoE has been extremely supportive,” Woodward said. “I feel like it’d be an impossible journey without Cornell.”

Jacob Pucci is the marketing and communications coordinator for the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech. 

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