We first met Jennifer Gomez at one of her in-person pitches for the European-style hand-rolled butter sold through Colorado Springs-based Sawatch Artisan Foods, which she and her husband, Tim, launched in 2018.
Fascinated that this new-to-us creamery was right here under our nose, we wanted to learn more. For instance, what’s the difference between European-style butter and butter sold here?
“European-style butter must be 82% butterfat or higher to be referred to as European-style,” Jennifer said. “Butter manufactured in the US is 80% butterfat, and the extra 2% makes a big difference in flavor and texture. Our minimum butterfat is even better than that. We target 84%.”
Of course, we had to try some of the butter and found it to be much, much better tasting and smoother than what we were using on our morning toast.
We wanted to learn more about the Gomezes’ story.
Where it started
Tim, 46, a veteran in milk processing, brings 24 years of on-the-job training to their business. Growing up in Artesia, N.M., he said, “there were three career paths: athletics, oil and gas, or agriculture. If you did well in athletics, there was a chance of getting a scholarship for college. If that didn’t happen, then you were left with the other options.”
His family was involved in oil and gas, which was of no interest to him.
“I had a friend whose family had a ranch near Santa Fe, and I started working there during the summer months,” he said. “I got involved with dairy farmers and that was the direction I went. I worked at Leprino Foods in Roswell (New Mexico) for a short period of time, and this is where my passion for manufacturing milk into dairy products began.”
Jennifer said, “My husband understands the milk. He has been involved in agriculture his entire career and helped to pioneer the ultrafiltration process. He was one of the original inventors of Fair Life Milk.”
In 2012 Tim started Kansas Dairy Ingredients in Hugoton, Kan., which made ultra filtered concentrated milk product ingredients. The company’s name has been changed to KDI Cheese Co. and he is the chief executive officer.
Jennifer, who is a nurse, had a successful career as a sales alignment executive for a large health care IT firm. In 2016, she left that job to join Tim’s company as director of strategy.
“As we started working with bigger companies, it was like we were becoming their employees,” Tim said. “That wasn’t what we wanted to do. We wanted to spend time making what we love — artisan food, taking our time to produce high-quality products, like the Swiss do so well.”
This led the couple to travel to Switzerland to learn about cheese making with the dream of opening a business branch specializing in European-style butter and other artisan cheeses.
“After all, the Swiss make excellent cheese and the best precision equipment like clocks and even the train for the Cog Railroad,” Tim said. “We wanted to make products that are memorable in the United States.”
In 2018, he and Jennifer launched Sawatch Artisan Foods in Colorado Springs. They found a spot for a manufacturing facility at 2201 Hagerman St., near Pub Dog and Colorado Mountain Brewery. It took another year for the business to get established. By 2020, they had developed their food service strategy — but as we all know, that’s when COVID-19 nearly shut down the restaurant industry.
“It was the worst possible time to launch a food business focused on restaurant wholesale markets,” Jennifer said.
Tim added, “We had to make a hard pivot in our plans, from food service to selling direct at community farmers markets.”
Jennifer developed a plan to sell the butter at the markets and to start an online business. They continued with the design plans for a small creamery and small batch manufacturing facility. It will be a retail outlet, tasting room and an educational center for school tours.
“We had delays on gaining our permitting, which was our first issue during COVID,” Jennifer said. “However, the pivot to selling direct helped us create an amazing customer base, and we remain on task to construct our creamery. We still have plans to open; we just need a little more time to work through rising costs.”
The products and the future
While butter is their main business, the couple is expanding their cheese production. They are making gouda, Monterey jack, cheese curds, white cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan and pepper jack as well as a wholesale line of Hispanic-style cheeses including cotija and queso fresco.
Until the creamery is completed, you can find butter and some of the cheeses at local stores like The Sourdough Boulangerie, Bread & Butter Neighborhood Market and Gather Food Studio & Spice Shop.
Shawn Saunders, owner of The Sourdough Boulangerie, was Jennifer’s first retail wholesale customer, and he has not looked back since.
“We started using Sawatch Artisan Foods butter right before the pandemic started and have been so impressed with it and all the new products they offer,” Saunders said. “We use their organic grass-fed mozzarella for our pizzas on Saturdays and sell a vast array of their cheeses and butters here at the bakery. The butter is far superior to others out there, with its higher butterfat content and amazing flavor. It’s more expensive, but our products would be inferior without it.”
Stacy Poore, co-owner of Bread & Butter Neighborhood Market, said, “We love carrying Sawatch products. The cheese curds and artisan butters are most popular. One of our customers who discovered the butter when we opened the store comes back a few times a month to buy the butter, even though she has moved to Pueblo. Jen and her team are so responsive and offer us excellent service. We are proud to work with them.”
Contact the writer: 636-0271.