NEWS | Cremona

Andrea, from Ecuador to Cremona to study fermentation in cocoa

13 settembre 2023

Andrea, from Ecuador to Cremona to study fermentation in cocoa

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If the legends that have been lost over the centuries were not enough, even the very name of its plant confirms that cocoa is the nectar of the gods: theobroma cacao, the “food of the gods” according to Linnaeus, the father of the modern scientific classification of living organisms. They know this well in Ecuador, a country that was the world’s leading exporter of cocoa in the 19th century and where today some of the world’s most prized varieties are produced. In Quito, the Ecuadorian capital perched on the slopes of the Pichincha volcano at 2,850 metres, Andrea Sevilla Rivadeneira chose to “see the world from a different perspective”. And she enrolled in the Graduate degree programme in Food Processing: innovation and tradition at the Cremona campus of Università Cattolica. “I evaluated several study opportunities abroad,” says Andea. “I have always been interested in coming to Italy because I think the relationship this country has with the food industry is truly unique. The very fact that the programme I chose bears the words 'innovation' and 'tradition' in its name says a lot: I wanted to learn to observe through these two perspectives, and to bring new knowledge and skills to my country”.

So, after graduating as a food industry engineer from the Universidad de Las Americas in Quito, Andrea chose to throw her heart over the hurdle. Or rather, across the ocean. “The pandemic made me realise that life is very short and precious and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do what I really wanted to do,” the 27-year-old continues. “Of course, arriving in Cremona was not easy. I didn’t know anyone here, I had no friends, I didn’t know the language. Everything was new, and studying and living in a different language was very challenging. I learnt Italian to communicate with people, in the supermarket as well as in the bank. But it was fascinating to force myself to develop new skills. I am a very introverted person, so it was a challenge to start from scratch, in a new community.”

Two intense years on the Santa Monica campus. Which ended with the thesis, discussed in the lecture hall, entitled Microbial analysis of cocoa bean fermentation: a molecular approach. A dissertation that is the result of research and analysis work, in collaboration with the Ferrero Group, with 110 cum laude. “I came to do this thesis thanks to Professor Morelli,” says the student. “He was my teacher during my first year and was the first to introduce me to this project that had already been started with Ferrero. They were interested in having some sort of connection with a great cocoa producer like Ecuador, and when the professor found out that I was from that corner of the world, he immediately offered me to be part of the project. I think he was very happy (smiles, ed.). Cocoa is highly valued in my country, for traditional and cultural reasons. It is part of our culture, as wine is in Italy. During the months in which I worked on my thesis, I attended very interesting meetings, for example in Alba, at the Ferrero headquarters. It was important for me to deal with a familiar theme, such as cocoa production, but to see it from a very different, totally new perspective. Being part of a large international group’s research on cocoa made me very happy.

“The collaboration between the graduate degree programme in Food Processing and companies allows us to offer dissertations in collaboration with different companies to essentially all undergraduates,” explains Lorenzo Morelli, Director of the Department for Sustainable Food Process (DiSTAS) and coordinator of the graduate degree programme. “Andrea did an objectively very important job, and a very difficult one,” explains Edoardo Puglisi, Professor in Agricultural Microbiology and supervisor of the thesis. “She was called to the field, in Ecuador, at a company that was to carry out fermentation in collaboration with Ferrero. Professor Morelli, myself and our collaborators had to support her remotely with the preparation of the work, which she had to manage independently. It has been a successful collaboration, because the research is already bringing interesting results and other positive spin-offs. The strong link between this graduate degree programme and companies, after all, means that a large part of the theses has contact with the corporate world, and at the same time this degree is interesting for companies because they know that they can find trained people with important skills”.

It is no coincidence that Giorgia Spigno President of the final examination commission, cited Andrea Sevilla Rivadeneira’s thesis as the perfect example of a dissertation combining innovation and tradition. “Fermentation in chocolate is something that can also be seen walking down the streets in some coastal areas of Ecuador,” Andrea concludes. “Studying this phenomenon from a very technical point of view and understanding what are the development paths and the different factors that determine the final quality of chocolate, was very interesting. I never thought about these aspects before, they changed my own perception and appreciation of the product.”

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