Andrea Cudin, owner of Lira Rossa Artisan Cheese, places fresh, homemade cheeses made from original Italian recipes in the refrigerator in a small building on the Four E Dairy in Moulton.
The building is always open, and some of the bags are marked with customers’ names who leave money when they pick up their purchases. Other cheeses are there for the taking by anyone, and they are asked to leave their payment. Lira Rossa operates under the rule of the honor system.
Cudin brought old-world recipes from the Friuli- Venezia Giulia region of Italy to the Crossroads when he moved to the area with his wife, Jillian Scheumack Cudin. Since then, he has returned to a small village creamery in his native country for five weeks to learn more about making cheese. He turned his hobby into a business in 2016, and the cheesemaker who provided Cudin with instruction in Italy made the trip to Texas for the grand opening.
Milk from Four E Dairy is piped directly from the milk barn into the creamery where Cudin makes his cheeses. The quality of the milk determines the quality of the cheese, and more than 300 Jersey cows at the Four E Dairy produce a high-quality product, Cudin said. The cows are grass-fed and roam free on the farm without antibiotics or hormones.
“That makes the milk richer in healthy enzymes and also less prone to contaminations, therefore, safer,” Cudin continued. “Cheese is a result of processing milk, so you already know if you have good cheese based on the milk.”
Price is the main concern for grocery store chains where the average customer expects cheese to be inexpensive, and those cheap cheese start with cheap milk. Furthermore, the creameries making cheese in large quantities for grocery stores do not have the same control over the quality of the product as the smaller creameries.
One gallon of milk makes about one pound of cheese, and Cudin makes at least 15 different types of cheese that range in weight from about an ounce to 14-pound wheels.
The most popular cheeses are latteria, mozzarella and ricotta. The latteria, made from raw milk according to an original Friuli-region recipe, is the signature Alpine-style cheese. The flavor is “delicate” and “strengthens and becomes more aromatic with age.” Other varieties include caciotta, ricotta affumicata and formadi frant.
“First, mozzarella was our bestseller, and now, latteria is,” Cudin said. “And our ricotta, when you try ours, you never go back because it’s so different.”
Lira Rossa is the only creamery anywhere in the area making what Cudin calls “real ricotta.”
Cudin travels every Friday to Houston, stays the night and attends the Urban Harvest Farmers Market on Buffalo Speedway on Saturday. While there, he also delivers his cheeses to restaurant clients. Majek Vineyard and Winery in Schulenburg was Cudin’s first client, and the Victoria Country Club has occasionally served his cheeses in Victoria.
Cudin said he makes an expensive product, $20 to $24 per pound, but his prices are still below average for cheeses made by small-batch creameries in Texas.
“We are making Italian artisan cheeses like those made in Italy,” he said. “And many people are not used to cheeses being expensive.”
Despite working six days per week, Cudin called his wife the breadwinner of the family. She works for Scheumack Homes, another family business, and takes care of the bookkeeping and other duties outside the cheese-making room for Lira Rossa.
Cudin said customers can purchase cheeses at the creamery, order them and pick them up at the Cudins’ home in Victoria or have them shipped during the cool months.