A showcase of the state's most unique handcrafted cheeses is coming to Pueblo on Sunday, Oct. 29, when the first-ever Colorado Artisan Cheese Fest will be held in the Fortino Ballroom at Pueblo Community College.

A showcase of the state’s most unique handcrafted cheeses is coming to Pueblo on Sunday, Oct. 29, when the first-ever Colorado Artisan Cheese Fest will be held in the Fortino Ballroom at Pueblo Community College.

Springside Cheese Shop owner Keith Hintz is organizing the event.

“We sample cheeses at our store every day, but people don’t always take advantage of the opportunity to do that,” he said. “Here’s a whole day just for expanding your palate by tasting things you’ve never tried before.”

Sunday’s grand sampling has been capped at 800 tickets, which will be offered for sale online and at the door until they run out. Visiting vendors will include many of the state’s best-known dairies, including the James Ranch at Durango, the Lazy Ewe Bar 2 at Del Norte and the Jumping Good Goat Dairy at Buena Vista. Craft wine and beers, olive oils, charcuterie and salsa will also be featured.

Colorado has held a statewide cheese festival for the past eight years, first in Denver and then in Longmont, which attracted crowds of up to 1,500 people. When the organizer moved out-of-state last summer, Hintz decided to take it over and bring it to Pueblo. He also chose to limit the focus to craft cheese-makers and rebranded the event by adding the word “artisan” to the title.

Hintz estimated there are less than two-dozen artisan dairies operating statewide, many of which belong to a regional organization called the Rocky Mountain Cheese Guild.

“They are all making great products and are not getting enough recognition and appreciation for what they do,” he said.

The festival will include samples of some of his personal favorites, like the Belford Reserve from James Ranch, a Gouda-style cheese aged three years. Another unique offering will be the Taleggio cheese from Moon Hill Dairy of Steamboat Springs, a “stinky” Italian-style cheese with a washed rind. He’s also excited that Lazy Ewe Bar 2 Dairy has started making cheese from yak milk, which is rich in butterfat.

Hintz himself is descended from a long line of cheese-makers in Wisconsin, going back to his great-grandfather.

What brought Hintz to Pueblo was his wife, whom he met through his sister, a graduate of the University of Denver who married a local man and settled in the Pueblo community. The couple’s decision to make their home in Pueblo was an opportunity for him to expand his family’s business into a new geographical market.

Although Hintz is a transplant from Wisconsin, he has become a pivotal part of the local food scene in southern Colorado. “That’s very intentional,” he said. “I like to say we are a local company with a Wisconsin connection. I live just 10 blocks from the store.”

The beautifully curated shop he opened in 2011 offers the family’s Wisconsin-style block cheeses and cheese curds as well as a wide selection of other products from around the country and the world. It provides a surprisingly upscale and gourmet shopping experience for a town of Pueblo’s size.

In addition, he’s put a local spin on some of his family’s cheeses, creating things like cheese curds flavored with Pueblo chilies and cheddars infused with locally made salsa.

But Hintz isn’t satisfied with just selling cheese. As a licensed cheese-maker back in Wisconsin, who grew up working in the dairy plant since the time he could walk. He wants to make his own cheese using locally sourced milk and has already looked at 30 different buildings around the area over the past four years trying to find the right spot.

His long-term goal is to secure a facility in Pueblo where he can make cheese on-site and allow shoppers to observe and learn about the process in a combined retail-manufacturing space. It will be at least another year before that happens, he estimated.

“We intend to remain family owned and operated, and that means it may take us four years rather than 12 months to start up a new factory, but that’s just how we have to look at it,” he said.

He noted that the retail business is becoming more competitive, with Amazon buying Whole Foods and stores like King Soopers and City Market “upping their game” with increasingly extensive and interactive cheese displays. Meanwhile, the art of cheese making needs artisans willing to carry on the tradition.

“There are some things we could make here that are not currently being made anywhere in Colorado,” he said.