Brad Hacker didn’t see it coming.

“It was called Lemon Baked Ricotta,” recalls Hacker, the cheese buyer for Jungle Jim’s International Market and manager of its Fairfield cheese shop. A year ago, he was selling a case a month of it. But during the two-day 2014 Big Cheese Fest, he sold out of it.

“People loved it,” says Hacker. “Now we’re going through two cases a week. “

Introducing people to new cheeses is the whole point of the annual event at one of the nation’s largest cheese shops. The 2015 Big Cheese Fest takes place 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Feb. 7-8 in the event center at the Jungle Jim’s in Fairfield. Tickets are $8-$10, children 5-12 are $1, and kids under 5 are free.

Last year, Big Cheese Fest attracted more than 2,000 people. There were dozens of creameries represented, offering samples of hundreds of cheeses. Cheddars were the biggest sellers, but there were goat cheeses, cheeses from sheep’s milk, bleus, goudas and fontinas, too. There were cheeses from all over Europe. But the highlights turned out to be the artisanal cheeses from independent American creameries.

Kenny Mattingly, who owns Austin, Ky.-based Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese with his wife, Beverly, attended last year.

“We’ll definitely be coming back,” says Mattingly. “We had a blast. And we introduced a lot of people to our cheeses.”

The Mattinglys are the very definition of artisanal cheesemakers. All of the milk comes from their own cows, a herd of 150 animals that are a crossbreed of American Holstein, European Holstein, Australian Red, Brown Swiss and Jersey cows. All of their cheeses—they have 27 now—are made and aged on-site as well.

“If you want a consistent cheese, you really have to be in complete control of everything that goes into it,” says Mattingly.

As with most American creameries, his best-sellers are his cheddars. But Kenny’s is known for its bleus, too, especially the Barren County Bleu and the Kentucky Bleu, which has a boosted cream content. But this year, besides specialties like his Kentucky Rose and cave-aged Ted cheese, Kenny has high hopes for a relative newcomer. At this point, he simply calls it Monastery cheese. Unlike most monastery-type cheeses, which are rubbed with brine or some variety of wine, Kenny’s is given a final wash with an artisanal beer.

“I think people are looking for more flavor in their cheese,” says Mattingly.

It’s this sort of experimentation that Hacker admires about independent cheesemakers. He’s also proud that, mixed in with the nearly 36 creameries or cheese boards expected for the festival, there is an increasing number from this region.

His enthusiasm is obvious as he rattles off a list that includes Jacobs and Brichford Farmstead (near Connersville, Ind.), Walnut Creek Foods (Walnut Creek, Ohio) and My Artisano Foods in Sharonville.

“We’ve had cheese tastings for years,” says Hacker. “But this is something completely different. I can’t even tell you how many cheeses will be in the house. All I know is that as many cheeses as we have, there’s always someone who shows up with something I’ve never had before. And I can’t wait.”