The robustness of the starter culture during cheese fermentation is enhanced by the presence of a rich consortium of microbes. Natural starters are consortia of microbes undoubtedly richer than selected starters. Among natural starters, natural whey starters (NWS) are the most common cultures currently used to produce different varieties of cheeses. Undefined NWS are typically used for Italian cooked, long-ripened, extrahard, raw milk cheeses, such as Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano. Together with raw milk microbiota, NWS are responsible for most cheese characteristics. The microbial ecology of these 2 cheese varieties is based on a complex interaction among starter lactic acid bacteria (SLAB) and nonstarter lactic acid bacteria (NSLAB), which are characterized by their different abilities to grow in a changing substrate. This review aims to summarize the latest findings on Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano to better understand the dynamics of SLAB, which mainly arise from NWS, and NSLAB, which mainly arise from raw milk, and their possible role in determining the characteristics of these cheeses. The review is presented in 4 main sections. The first summarizes the main microbiological and chemical properties of the ripened cheese as determined by cheese-making process variables, as these variables may affect microbial growth. The second describes the microbiota of raw milk as affected by specific milk treatments, from milking to the filling of the cheese milk vat. The third describes the microbiota of NWS, and the fourth reviews the knowledge available on microbial dynamics from curd to ripened cheese. As the dynamics and functionality of complex undefined NWS is one of the most important areas of focus in current food microbiology research, this review may serve as a good starting point for implementing future studies on microbial diversity and functionality of undefined cheese starter cultures.
Invited Review: Microbial evolution in raw milk, long-ripened cheeses produced using undefined natural whey starters / M. Gatti; B. Bottari; C. Lazzi; E. Neviani; G. Mucchetti. - In: JOURNAL OF DAIRY SCIENCE. - ISSN 1525-3198. - 97:2(2014), pp. 573-591. [10.3168/jds.2013-7187]