The microbiota of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) cheeses plays an essential role in defining their quality and typicity and could be applied to protect these products from counterfeiting. To study the possible role of cheese microbiota in distinguishing Grana Padano (GP) cheese from generical hard cheeses (HC), the microbial structure of 119 GP cheese samples was studied by DNA metabarcoding and DNA metafingerprinting and compared with 49 samples of generical hard cheeses taken from retail. DNA metabarcoding highlighted the presence, as dominant taxa, of Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus helveticus, Streptococcus thermophilus, Limosilactobacillus fermentum, Lactobacillus delbrueckii, Lactobacillus spp., and Lactococcus spp. in both GP cheese and HC. Differential multivariate statistical analysis of metataxonomic and metafingerprinting data highlighted significant differences in the Shannon index, bacterial composition, and species abundance within both dominant and subdominant taxa between the two cheese groups. A supervised Neural Network (NN) classification tool, trained...

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