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Ecology of Vastedda della valle del Belìce cheeses: A review and recent findings to stabilize the traditional production


The increasing request for classic foods has led to a higher demand for cheeses enjoying a “recognition of quality” status. This phenomenon has also affected Sicilian dairy products, in particular protected designation of origin (PDO) “Vastedda della valle del Belìce” (VdB), a cheese traditionally available only during the summer season, but requested year round. The variations of the microbial populations of raw milk among the seasons influence the microbiological quality of the cheeses produced. This review article reports the historical importance of cheeses and the traditional equipment used for dairy productions in Sicily with a specific focus on VdB. The microbial ecology of this cheese is thoroughly discussed. The recent findings to stabilize the traditional VdB production protocol with regards to the microbial composition and the organoleptic characteristics of the final cheeses are reviewed. The selection of starter lactic acid bacteria from PDO cheeses, their in vitro and in vivo application, and, overall, the setup of their inoculation, have all generated a novel production protocol. The innovation was respectful of the traditional discipline, essentially based on the ad hoc biofilm formation on the traditional wooden equipment, and allowed the preservation of VdB typicality. Future prospects are summarized.