The use of freeze-dried kefir coculture as a starter in the production of feta-type cheese was investigated. Maturation of the produced cheese at 4 degrees C was monitored for up to 70 days, and the effects of the starter culture, the salting method, and the ripening process on quality characteristics were studied. The use of kefir coculture as a starter led to increased lactic acid concentrations and decreased pH values in the final product associated with significantly higher conversion rates compared to salted rennet cheese. Determination of bacterial diversity at the end of the ripening process in salted kefir and rennet cheeses by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis technology, based on both DNA and RNA analyses, suggested a potential species-specific inhibition of members of the genera Staphylococcus and Psychrobacter by kefir coculture. The main active microbial associations in salted kefir cheese appeared to be members of the genera Pseudomonas and Lactococcus, while in salted rennet cheese, Oxalobacteraceae, Janthinobacterium, Psychrobacter, and Pseudomonas species were noted. The effect of the starter culture on the production of aroma-related compounds responsible for cheese flavor was also studied by the solid-phase microextraction-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry technique. Kefir coculture also appeared to extend the shelf life of unsalted cheese. Spoilage of kefir cheese was observed on the 9th and 20th days of preservation at 10 and 5 degrees C, respectively, while spoilage in the corresponding rennet cheese was detected on the 7th and 16th days. Microbial counts during preservation of both types of unsalted cheese increased steadily and reached similar levels, with the exception of staphylococci, which were significantly lower in unsalted kefir cheese. All types of cheese produced with kefir as a starter were approved and accepted by the panel during the preliminary sensory evaluation compared to commercial feta-type cheese.