Autochthonous lactic acid bacteria (LAB) play a key role in the development of cheese flavor. As the pasteurization treatment on raw milk causes the elimination of LAB, secondary starter cultures are used in cheese manufacture to obtain cheeses with improved and standardized flavors. In this work, strains of the L. casei group isolated from traditional Italian cheeses were screened for their phenotypic features of technological interest for use as secondary starters. Their milk acidifying performance and the production of volatile compounds when grown in milk were evaluated. Simultaneously, the acetoin metabolic pathway presence was screened in the strains and assessed for its transcriptional activation. The results showed that the analyzed strains, despite belonging to taxonomically-related species, vary greatly according to the measured phenotypes. Four strains among the fourteen screened could be potentially used as adjunct cultures for cheese-making processes. The strain that showed the highest production of acetoin upregulated the aspartate pathway. An increased knowledge of volatile compounds’ production and acidifying properties of LAB strains isolated from traditional dairy products might guide the selection of strains for industrial applications.
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