Pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA gene, community-level physiological profiles determined by the use of Biolog EcoPlates, and proteolysis analyses were used to characterize Canestrato Pugliese Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) cheese. The number of presumptive mesophilic lactococci in raw ewes' milk was higher than that of presumptive mesophilic lactobacilli. The numbers of these microbial groups increased during ripening, showing temporal and numerical differences. Urea-PAGE showed limited primary proteolysis, whereas the analysis of the pH 4.6-soluble fraction of the cheese revealed that secondary proteolysis increased mainly from 45 to 75 days of ripening. This agreed with the concentration of free amino acids. Raw ewes' milk was contaminated by several bacterial phyla: Proteobacteria (68%; mainly Pseudomonas), Firmicutes (30%; mainly Carnobacterium and Lactococcus), Bacteroidetes (0.05%), and Actinobacteria (0.02%). Almost the same microbial composition persisted in the curd after molding. From day 1 of ripening onwards, the phylum Firmicutes dominated. Lactococcus dominated throughout ripening, and most of the Lactobacillus species appeared only at 7 or 15 days. At 90 days, Lactococcus (87.2%), Lactobacillus (4.8%; mainly Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus sakei), and Leuconostoc (3.9%) dominated. The relative utilization of carbon sources by the bacterial community reflected the succession. This study identified strategic phases that characterized the manufacture and ripening of Canestrato Pugliese cheese and established a causal relationship between mesophilic lactobacilli and proteolysis.