The present study was carried out to produce Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) Pecorino Siciliano cheese with a multi-species lactic acid bacteria (LAB) culture, composed of starter and non-starter strains in order to reduce the microbiological variability of the products derived without LAB inoculums. To this end, cheese samples produced in six factories located in five provinces (Agrigento, Catania, Enna, Palermo and Trapani) of Sicily, and previously characterised for physicochemical, microbiological and sensory aspects, have been investigated in this work for bacterial microbiome, fatty acid (FA) composition as well as volatile organic compound (VOC) profiles. Analysis of the cheese microbiomes indicated that streptococci (30.62-77.18% relative abundance) and lactobacilli (on average 25.90% relative abundance) dominated the bacterial communities of control cheeses, produced without exogenous inoculums, whereas the cheeses produced with the selected multi-strain culture saw the dominance of lactococci (in the range 6.49-14.92% relative abundance), streptococci and lactobacilli. After the addition of the selected mixed culture, Shannon index increased in all cheeses, but only the cheeses produced with the selected LAB mixed culture in the factory 2 showed Gini-Simpson diversity index (0.79) closer to the reference value (0.94) for a perfect even community. FA composition, mainly represented by saturated FA (on average 69.60% and 69.39% in control cheeses and experimental cheeses, respectively), was not affected by adding LAB culture. The presence of polyunsaturated FA ranged between 7.93 and 8.03% of FA. VOC profiles were different only for the content of butanoic acid, registered for the experimental cheeses at higher concentrations (on average 662.54 mg/kg) than control cheeses (barely 11.96 mg/kg). This study validated addition of the ad hoc starter/non-starter culture for PDO Pecorino cheese production.
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