Biofilm-forming ability has been increasingly recognized as an important virulence factor in Staphylococci, facilitating their persistence in the host, evading its defences and allowing bacterial survival at high antimicrobial concentrations. Staphylococcus aureus remains a major pathogen of chronic mastitis, but in the last years Staphylococcus epidermidis has emerged as a relevant mastitis pathogen. The present work aimed at the evaluation of the biofilm-forming ability of Staphylococci field isolates from bovine subclinical mastitis and at the development of a fluorescent in situ hybridisation (FISH) protocol that would allow the direct observation of biofilm formation in milk samples. The analysis of phenotypic expression in Congo Red Agar (CRA) and by FISH, showed that 37.5% of the S. aureus isolates produced biofilm, while by optical density measurement only 18.75% isolates revealed this phenotype. The results showed a fair agreement according to the kappa coefficient test (kappa = 0.259). Regarding S. epidermidis mastitis isolates, 37.5% revealed the ability to produce biofilm, but only four isolates were positive by all methods. This agreement was moderate (kappa = 0.467). The application of FISH to artificially contaminated milk samples allowed the direct observation of biofilm production by 37.5% isolates, showing total agreement with the CRA results. This method better mimics the in vivo conditions, especially in terms of the presence of calcium and iron, which in high concentrations, respectively, are known to inhibit or induce biofilm production. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.