ABSTRACT Objective To screen for and characterize lactic acid bacteria strains with the ability to produce fermented milk and reduce cholesterol levels. Methods The strains were isolated from traditional fermented milk in China. In vitro and in vivo evaluation of cholesterol-reduction were used to identify and verify strains of interest. Characteristics were analyzed using spectrophotometry and plate counting assays. Results The isolate HLX37 consistently produced fermented milk with strong cholesterol-reducing properties was identified as Lactobacillus plantarum (accession number: KR105940) and was thus selected for further study. The cholesterol reduction by strain HLX37 was 45.84%. The isolates were acid-tolerant at pH 2.5 and bile-tolerant at 0.5% (w/v) in simulated gastric juice (pH 2.5) for 2 h and in simulated intestinal fluid (pH 8.0) for 3 h. The auto-aggregation rate increased to 87.74% after 24 h, while the co-aggregation with Escherichia coli DH5 was 27.76%. Strain HLX37 was intrinsically resistant to antibiotics such as penicillin, tobramycin, kanamycin, streptomycin, vancomycin and amikacin. Compared with rats in the model hyperlipidemia group, the total cholesterol content in the serum and the liver as well as the atherogenic index of rats in the viable fermented milk group significantly decreased by 23.33%, 32.37% and 40.23%, respectively. Fewer fat vacuoles and other lesions in liver tissue were present in both the inactivated and viable fermented milk groups compared to the model group. Conclusion These studies indicate that strain HLX37 of L. plantarum demonstrates probiotic potential, potential for use as a candidate for commercial use for promoting health.