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Food Microbiol. 2019 Apr;78:62-72. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2018 Sep 25.

Fungal mycobiota and mycotoxin risk for traditional artisan Italian cave cheese.

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Institute of Sciences of Food Production, ISPA-CNR, Via Amendola 122/0, 70126, Bari, Italy.
Institute of Sciences of Food Production, ISPA-CNR, Via Amendola 122/0, 70126, Bari, Italy. Electronic address:


Cave cheese is a surface mold-ripened variety of cheese produced also in South of Italy, exploiting fungal population naturally occurring on cave walls, as part of secondary microbiota for ripening. In this study, 148 fungal strains were isolated from 22 independent cave cheese samples, collected in 13 Italian geographical locations, mostly in Apulian area. DNA-based identification showed the presence of twenty-four fungal species in the outer part of the cheese ripened in caves. Aspergillus westerdijkiae and Penicillium biforme resulted the most frequently isolated species, followed by Penicillium roqueforti and Penicillium solitum. The 86% of cheese sample presented at least one toxigenic species and the 45% revealed the presence of ochratoxigenic species, A. westerdijkiae and A. steynii, suggesting possible mycotoxin risk during ripening stage in caves, confirmed by the presence of ochratoxin A (OTA) in the rind of 36% of samples. In conclusion, cave cheese is a susceptible product for toxigenic mold growth and in particular OTA contamination, therefore adeguate scientific tools for matching organolectic consumer expectations and complete safety of food should be developed, as well as spontaneously molded and not monitored cheeses should not be consumed to avoid mycotoxin risk.


A. steynii; A. westerdijkiae; Cheese; OTA; P. biforme; Toxigenic fungi

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