Experimental cheeses were prepared in triplicate from pasteurized milk inoculated with Debaryomyces hansenii under aseptic conditions. Three cheesemaking replicates, with efficient control of environmental parameters (temperature, relative humidity, atmospheric composition) showed similar ripening characteristics. Deb. hansenii grew only on the cheese surface, where its oxygen demand was satisfied, especially during the first 24 h (mean generation time, 5·8 h). Salting in a sterile saturated brine solution reduced its growth and decreased viability. Growth was slower after 48 h because of the decrease in ripening temperature (mean generation time, 94 h). The total count of Deb. hansenii was maximum (≈3×107 yeasts/mm2) after 6 d ripening and its viable cell concentration was ≈2×106cfu/mm2. This difference was due to the ‘non-viability’ of part of the population. The viable Deb. hansenii concentration was highly correlated (r2>0·95) with the lactate concentration in the inner part and with the surface and inner lactose concentrations, up to day 10 of ripening. This emphasized the importance of the diffusion of carbon substrate from the inner part to the surface of the cheese during ripening. The pH of the inner part depended significantly on the lactate and lactose concentrations. Surface pH was significantly related to inner lactate concentration, temperature and relative humidity. This also demonstrated the controlling role of carbon source diffusion.