Differences between the fermentation characteristics of cell contents (CC) and protease-treated cell walls (CW) of young leaves of Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum Lam.) cultivar Multimo (tetraploid), were studied in vitro. Gas and volatile fatty acid (VFA) production rates were measured at regular intervals, as was the degradability of organic matter (OM) of CW. The measured VFA were used to predict the gas production and fermentable OM using stoichiometric calculations. For CW the volume and kinetics of measured gas production were the same as those predicted from the VFA formed. In contrast, the measured gas production for CC was consistently less than predicted, indicating that the stoichiometric equations were not valid for rapidly fermenting substrates. For both CC and CW, the relative rate of acetic acid production levelled off more slowly than for other VFA, resulting in an increasing gas yield (in ml/g fermentable OM) after 12 (CW)-24 (CC)h incubation. Consequently, the fermentation of OM was not linearly related to gas production kinetics. For CW, the kinetics of decline of degradable OM and fermentable OM were the same, after correction for a constant ‘lost fraction’ of degradable OM of 205 g/kg OM. This work indicates the value of detailed studies of fermentation processes to evaluate herbage quality. In particular, the role of CC and the difference between degradation and fermentation require further attention.