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Quetzal Cooperative and their Chocolate Production in Modica

September 28, 2012

Quetzal is a Fair trade Cooperative established in 1995 to promote fair trade.  The cooperative was born with ties to female cloth weavers in Guatemala and as it imported these cloths it took the name Quetzal, from the quetzal parrot, a symbol of that country. I recently visited their chocolate workshop in Modica, talked to one of its founders, Sara, and saw the chocolate makers at work. The Sicilian town of Modica has had a long standing tradition of chocolate making and it is a chocolate with its own characteristics.

In 1998, following a trip made by some Quetzal Cooperative members to Ecuador, they started importing the cocoa mass.  At first, the cooperative had started importing the raw materials to make chocolate for domestic production by its members, who would buy their raw materials from these countries instead of the traditional network of the local pastry shops.  However, at a later time, the Quetzal members decided to start making the chocolate for other fair trade shops in their network of shops in Italy, a consortium or network of cooperatives operating in fair trade. So, in 2004, this chocolate making facility was started thanks to a loan through Banca Etica and Quetzal started producing chocolate for the cooperatives.

 As Sara stated, for them, chocolate is an excuse to talk with other people about globalization and economic relations with fair trade producers in the third world countries.  Quetzal carries out its work through presentations at schools, meetings with fair trade shops all around Italy and by publishing books such as Pane e Cioccolato, a chocolate cookbook. Furthermore, this work offers them an excuse to build relationships that are important to the members of Quetzal, such as with the Sicilian manna producer, Giulio Gelardi, who is one of the few manna producers in Sicily.  

Modica chocolate and Quetzal chocolate, as it belongs to this town, are an example of the authentic Aztec chocolate recipe.  This recipe arrived in Modica in the 17th century through the Spanish, as Sicily was in the Spanish kingdom.  The recipe is the same as the one utilized to make chocolate that one can find at the Central American indigenous markets.  Only in Modica is the chocolate still made this way, as in other parts of Italy and Europe the process has changed into chocolate as we know it today. 

So what are the particular characteristics of Modica chocolate?  It is made with cocoa mass, manna, sugar and spices at a very low temperature.  The technique adopted is Bain Mari, using a double boiler.  The process is simple and the important element is the quality of the raw materials; it is fundamental that the raw materials be of excellent quality as the flavor of each ingredient comes through. There is no adding of ingredients that could cover the taste of any ingredients that might not be at the best of their quality.  Some people who may have chocolate allergies may find that they can eat this chocolate with no problem due to the absence of ingredients such as lecithin or milk.

In understanding the composition of the cocoa bean, one must know that it is made up of 50% fat (cocoa butter) and 50% dry, cocoa powder.  In the Modica chocolate, only the proportions contained in the bean are used.  Other types of chocolates can contain more than 50% fat and still be called chocolate as the rules and regulations of many countries allow this, even with added fat that is not cocoa butter.

Consequently, Modica chocolate contains less fat when compared to other chocolates.  Another difference between Modica chocolate and other chocolate is that in other types of chocolate interventions are made that contribute to making it creamier. The composition of the Modica chocolate explains the “gritty” texture as sugar doesn’t melt completely at the temperatures utilized in this chocolate production.

The picture above shows the Modica chocolate in its appearance at different times after its production. To the right hand side is chocolate that is shiny and has just been made, while the chocolate to the left has a different color, and looks dry.  However, it is not bad, but this is how it looks after about two days from production.  The Modica chocolate looks dry because it doesn’t undergo the “temperaggio” process, used on other chocolates, in which the chocolate undergoes a rapid drop in temperature and then the temperature is brought back to normal with the purpose of stabilizing the product.

Chocolate production at the Quetzal workshop

Following the cooperative’s philosophy, the production of hazelnut chocolate came as a result of supporting the rebirth of hazelnut production in the Polizzi area in Sicily.  The hazelnut production had died down as there had been problems in the area tied to water acquisition.  The local population had been acquiring their water by purchasing it and having it delivered by trucks, even though there was water to be had in the area, but other entities had illegally taken charge of the water supply system. However, about eight years ago, the municipality of Polizzi was able to take charge of the water supplies. Consequently, the water is now canalized for proper use and acquisition and to support the cause Quetzal purchases the hazelnuts form the Polizzi area to utilize them in its chocolate.  The relationship with the town of Polizzi has also lead to an exchange of services through which groups from Polizzi come to the chocolate facility in Modica to visit it, as part of a sustainable tourism project.

A variety of spices are also used in the chocolate production as Quetzal makes chocolate with red pepper, chili, salt, and cinnamon. Salt is acquired from the Riserva Naturale Orientata of the salt pan in Trapani, managed by the WWF, another example of relationships built through chocolate.  Other ingredients utilized in the chocolate are lemon, orange, coffee, pistachio, and almonds. Quetzal chocolate utilizes no essence, adding only lemon and orange zest, which is dried and ground before being added to the chocolate.  All the other raw materials utilized here, such as the spices and the coffee, are also ground right here in the chocolate workshop.

Quetzal takes pride in naming the producers of their raw materials. 

Cocoa mass from a coop in Fortalesa del Valle, Ecuador;

Three types of raw sugar cane are utilized:

Coop Manduvira’, Paraguay, main cane sugar (very refined). Thanks to their relationship with the Italian Fair Trade network, AltroMercato, the Manduriva’ coop sugar cane peasants who had sold only to large factories, are now working on a project to own their own factory.  They form a small coop of 100 peasants, creating their own network of sales and allowing other peasants to become part of this project.  

Copropap Ecuador (not as refined);

PFTC Philippines (very, very, raw sugar cane); Quetzal members visited PFTC and saw the simple processing workshop of the coop.  The peasants bring their sugar cane to the facility where it is squeezed.  The juice obtained is boiled and then placed in large, cold metal tanks and by shaking it manually, it is crystallized.  This sugar cane is very aromatic as it is rich in fiber and mineral salts, whereas refined sugar has no fragrance.

The spices utilized at Quetzal come from PODIE Coop, in Sri Lanka, and the coffee from UCIRI Coop, in Mexico.

Finally, the lemon, manna and hazelnuts utilized come from Sicilian organic producers, whereas the almonds and pistachios are Sicilian, but not organic.

After leaving the workshop, I walked to the AltroMondo shop close-by, where I could see all the products for sale and buy my own bars of chocolate to enjoy at home.

In closing, Sara mentioned they offer, on a regular basis, tours of the chocolate making facility and also trips to the surrounding areas. Sara speaks English well, so anyone interested can contact Sara directly at

 Awards Received by Quetzal

Pane e Cioccolato –  Written by Peppe Barone  and Sara Ongaro 

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