Words: Katie Lew
Photos: Becca Howard
The impeccably arranged display cases contain cheeses for every taste and occasion.
Tucked away in an ordinary shopping center just off the main street of Pueblo, Springside Cheese shop can be easy to overlook. But spend a few minutes perusing their beautifully displayed selection of cheeses, or talking to their knowledgeable staff, and it becomes clear that this shop is anything but ordinary. The impeccably-arranged display cases contain cheeses for every taste and occasion. From domestic cheddars to complex mixed-milk cheeses to locally-produced Colorado goat cheese, this shop has something for everyone. In addition to cheese, the shop also carries sumptuous gift baskets and a variety of cheese accoutrements.
Despite the large selection, their most popular seller remains the award-winning cheese curds, produced at Springside’s own cheese factory in Wisconsin. “Since opening, I’ve been amazed at the number of Midwestern transplants in this area who come in and say, ‘I can’t believe you have cheese curds!’“ explains owner Keith Hintz. Other best-selling products have more of a local flair: a Monterey Jack cheese and green chili cheese curds, both made with Pueblo chilies.
“From the time I could walk, I was helping in the cheese factory.”
Keith comes from a long line of cheesemakers in Wisconsin. His family has been in the cheese business for over 100 years and his great-grandfather produced award-winning cheddar as far back as 1926. Keith himself grew up in a home located above the family cheese factory. “From the time I could walk, I was helping in the cheese factory,” he remembers. “Weekends [and] snow days we spent helping at the factory and summers we spent on our grandparents’ farm helping milk cows and baling hay.” With a family history like that, it’s no wonder that Keith ended up in the cheese business, and even held a Wisconsin cheese maker’s license at one time. Springside Cheese currently has three retail shops: two in Wisconsin in addition to the shop in Pueblo. So how does a fourth-generation Wisconsin cheesemaker end up with a shop in Pueblo, Colorado? I sat down with Keith to find out more about his beautiful shop and the path that led him to Southern Colorado.
Did you always want to be involved in the family business?
Really early on, it was something I was very interested in. It was always kind of a natural thought. After graduating from high school I went to the University of Wisconsin to a program called the Farming Industries Course and got a certificate in agribusiness. I went back to the cheese factory with the intent of, “this is what I’m going to do.” But family businesses always have certain struggles that other businesses don’t have, and I ended up deciding to go back into the workforce outside of Springside for a number of years. Then a few years ago my dad was approaching retirement age and came to my siblings and [me] and said, “If any of you have an interest in the business, we’ll continue to invest in the business.” My brother and I both said that we had interest in carrying on the business and got involved again.
Why did you decide to open a shop in Pueblo?
Mainly because I found my wife here. My sister went to the University of Denver, married a man from Pueblo and has been here over 20 years. She introduced me to one of her friends about four years ago and after getting married, we decided this was the right place to live. My wife had a business out here and we both had family here, so it made sense to start our family here. My dad had been shipping cheese to my sister on a regular basis and so there was already an awareness of Wisconsin cheese out there. So when we opened our doors, we had a pretty steady business right from the beginning.
Do you think there is a lot of interest in southern Colorado in more gourmet, artisan foods?
I think there is a growing interest. There is still a large percentage of the population that are more focused on convenience and will prefer to buy pre-sliced cheese at the grocery store. But I think there is a growing interest, and as more stores open like ours and 80/Twenty Wines across the street, it adds to that interest.
Do you notice a difference between what products are popular in this shop and what you sell in the retail stores in Wisconsin?
There is a difference and it even varies between areas in Wisconsin. In northeastern Wisconsin, we’re selling mostly mozzarella, cheddar, provolone and Swiss. That’s about the extent, but people will come in and buy five pounds of cheddar at a time because it’s in practically every meal that they prepare. Here there is more variety in what people buy. There’s more interest in blue cheeses, more interest in goat milk cheeses, and everything is bought more on a half-pound size. They’ll want maybe four different half-pound pieces rather than a big five-pound block.
As I was preparing to do this interview, there were people who were surprised to hear that there was a store like this in Pueblo. What do you think needs to happen to change the perception of Pueblo and raise awareness of the neat stores here?
"I think there are a lot of hidden gems in the Pueblo area that people just aren’t aware of."
I think there are a couple of things. Pueblo businesses need to communicate, advertise to make their presence more noticeable in the Springs market. Our television commercial has done that beyond my wildest dreams. We have several customers who come every week from the Springs and say that they saw our commercial and couldn’t wait to come into the shop. I think there are a lot of hidden gems in the Pueblo area that people just aren’t aware of.
And people also just need to be adventurous and say, “I haven’t been to Pueblo for ten years. I should drive down there and see what’s going on.” It only takes 45 minutes to come down here and it’s easy to find your way around. And there’s a lot of history here and lot of great things for people to do.
What do you think is challenging about running a business like this in southern Colorado? How are the challenges different than running a cheese shop in Wisconsin?
I think in Wisconsin there is more of an awareness of different cheeses. We’ve had so many customers come in here and say, “I need goat cheese.” They’re thinking that there’s only one goat cheese, when there are literally thousands of goat cheeses. And just walking in here and seeing the selection can be overwhelming. So just educating people is really important. The way people use cheese in their diet here is also very different. In Wisconsin it’s in their casseroles and in their eggs in the morning and they’re just always cooking with cheese. There just isn’t the same volume of cheese being used in this area.
What are your plans for the future of Springside Cheese and the shop here?
"Even though we have a lot of the cheese production in Wisconsin right now, we do consider ourselves local and we try to support local."
Our long term goal is to make cheese here. Our intent was to create the market and make people aware of Springside and our cheeses, and then start producing cheese and have a natural market for it right off the bat. Our hope is that we’re able to locate adjacent to the retail store so that people can come in and view the cheesemaking process and then have courses on how cheese is made. Even though we have a lot of the cheese production in Wisconsin right now, we do consider ourselves local and we try to support local. So our goal is to make cheeses here that are unique to Southern Colorado, using milk from Southern Colorado.