Natural starter cultures are undefined multiple-strains culture communities of mostly thermophilic lactic acid bacteria (LAB), in association with minor amounts of mesophilic bacteria, which structure could be affected by small changes in the parameters of the cheese/whey-making process. This study aims to investigate the complex microbiota of natural whey starter (NWS) used in Parmigiano Reggiano (PR) cheese-making, focusing on both the absolute and relative abundance of bacterial species and on the modification of the bacterial community under environmental and technological pressures. To reach this purpose a combined approach, using quantitative PCR (qPCR) and High-Throughput Sequencing (HTS), was used to investigate the bacterial dynamics of 91 whey samples collected during different steps of PR cheese-making, in one dairy, through two different lines of production, one Conventional and one Organic, over a 10 weeks period. Our results highlighted that NWS used for the production of PR cheese is a dynamic microbial community, which adapts to the different technological parameters encountered in the cheese/NWS manufacturing process, while retaining a high level of resilience of the thermophilic LAB species mainly involved in the steps of curd acidification and the early maturation process. Differences were also observed in bacterial species diversity between samples from Conventional and Organic line but, in conclusion, NWS resulted to be shaped by technological treatments, regardless of its initial different composition.
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