Pyroglutamic acid is present in high amounts (0.5g/ 100g) in many cheese varieties-and particularly in extensively ripened Italian cheeses such as Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano. An in vivo model system for cooked mini-cheese production and ripening acceleration was set up to demonstrate the ability of thermophilic lactic acid bacteria, used as a starter, to produce pyroglutamic acid (pGlu). In mini-cheeses stored at 38 and 30 degrees C for up to 45 d, all starters tested produced different amounts of pGlu. In descending order of pGlu production, the bacteria analyzed were: Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis. Evidence for the presence of glutamine to pGlu cyclase activity in lactic acid bacteria was provided. Cell lysates obtained from cultures of L. helveticus, L. delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, L. delbrueckii subsp. lactis, and S. thermophilus showed the ability to cyclize glutamine to pGlu, resulting in processing yields from 1.4 to 30.3%, depending on the subspecies. Formation of pGlu from free glutamine appeared to be similar to that observed using a glutamine-glutamine dipeptide substrate. Under the experimental conditions applied, pGlu aminopeptidase activity was only detected in L. helveticus. Thus, pGlu formation in long-ripened cooked cheese may depend on the activity of thermophilic lactic acid bacteria.