Of 215 leuconostocs isolated from field grass, natural whey cultures and water-buffalo milk, 178 were identified as Leuconostoc mesenteroides ssp. mesenteroides while 37 strains could not be identified. Biochemical characterization allowed seven groups to be defined. Representative strains of each group and different habitat and nine reference strains were selected for further analyses. Protein profiles appeared suitable for species discrimination, but did not differentiate between the three subspecies of Leuc. mesenteroides. The technique also showed some differences among equivocal strains. DNA fingerprinting for most strains of Leuc. mesenteroides ssp. mesenteroides examined showed a different restriction pattern from that of the type strain. Ribotyping was not useful for discriminating species and subspecies of the genus Leuconostoc: Leuc. mesenteroides ssp. mesenteroides and ssp. dextranicum showed the same ribopattern as Leuc. lactis while Leuc. mesenteroides ssp. cremoris exhibited a pattern distinct from all the other species examined. On the basis of ARDRA-PCR, two main groups could be distinguished: the larger group included Leuc. mesenteroides, Leuc. lactis, Leuc. pseudomesenteroides and some unidentifiable strains; the second one included Leuc. citreum, Leuc. fallax, Weissella paramesenteroides and some unidentified strains.