Some basic information about the origin and manufacturing of cigars.
October 1492 – For the first time, Christopher Columbus saw the coasts of what he believed to be India…
In fact, without knowing it, he discovered the outposts of the Americas, and it was on the island of Cuba that he set foot. When he disembarked for the first time on this island, it was a paradisiacal place that he discovered. While looking for gold and riches, there was a strange plant that he discovered.
The first natives he met gave him large leaves of this plant that they thought were possessed by the spirit of the gods. On the occasion of their religious rites, these natives rolled the leaves roughly into a large cylinder to which they gave the name of Cohiba, it was not less than the ancestor of what we call today the cigar.
The Venetian did not realize at that time that the plant he had discovered was just as valuable as the gold he was vainly searching for. Five centuries later, this plant has conquered the world in its most prestigious form: Havana.
Tobacco grows all over the island of Cuba, but just as in every wine-producing country there are areas of “grand cru”, only a few small regions possess the ideal conditions for the cultivation of the best plants that will be reserved for the manufacture of cigars
Five regions are the “crus” of Cuba: Oriente – Remedios – Partido – Semi Vuelta – Vueta Abajo
Among these five regions, Partido and Vuelta Abajo are the ones where the best quality leaves come from, which will be reserved for the elaboration of the prestige cigars still rolled by hand today.
The most delicate plants grow in the Vuelta Abajo region in the Pinar del Rio district. This region enjoys very low rainfall, fertile and generous soil, and an abundance of Caribbean sunshine, all of which make Pinar del Rio what many consider to be the best tobacco leaves in the world.
Two varieties of tobacco are mainly cultivated in Cuba:
- Criollo, which is used to make the filler and wrapper of cigars
- Corojo, which is used exclusively to produce the large leaves of the wrapper that covers the cigar
The Vegueros cultivate tobacco, their task is as laborious as it is meticulous… see more:
They dedicate their summer season to the meticulous preparation of the land that will receive the seedlings, and it is in October, after 45 days of germination, that the plants will be transplanted into the ground to reach full maturity only around January, they will then proceed to the harvest that will continue in stages according to a perfectly established schedule developed over the decades with the experiences of a long tradition of tobacco cultivation.
The Corojos, whose leaves must reach maturity in perfect condition, are subject to a thousand cares and are cultivated under the shelter of Tapados, a kind of huge white gauze cloth, which prevents the sun from directly attacking the leaves, and at the same time creates a kind of greenhouse effect on the plantation that favors the growth of the plant. No detail is overlooked during the growth period of the plant: regular pruning and disbudding to promote the growth of the most beautiful leaves of each plant, which cannot all be harvested at the same time:
A Corojo plant has six stages of leaves that are distinguished from bottom to top by the following names: Libre de Pie – Uno y Medio – Centro Ligero – Centro Fino – Centro Gordo – Corona
Each type of leaf is picked in packs of two or three, starting from the bottom and working upwards, every other week. The harvest is spread out over about 40 days.
The Criollo is also ripe after fifty days and the harvest is less complex since this plant has only three varieties of leaves: Volado – Seco – Ligero
These leaves, the highest of which gives the cigar most of its aroma, are picked in five stages and are transported like the others to the tobacco drying sheds (casas del tabaco), which are in fact large buildings with windows that face east-west so as to let in only the early morning and sunset sun, thus maintaining constant coolness and humidity inside the buildings.
From planting to harvesting, each plant will have undergone no less than 150 passes by the vegueros in order to arrive in ideal condition at the right port.
First the drying!
The drying process starts by sewing the leaves by two and then by suspending them in the air near the ground for the freshest leaves and up to the ceiling for the driest ones, each pair of leaves being moved up one level as it dries. This stage requires a special know-how and lasts for a total of about fifty days. It is during this stage that the leaves of a beautiful green will turn to the golden brown color known by all and which made the reputation of the cigar throughout the world.
After the drying? The fermentation!
The brown leaves are taken back to the dryer while they are still slightly damp and they are taken off the poles in order to submit them to a first fermentation. This is a natural chemical process that lasts 25 to 30 days, during which the tobacco stacks must be constantly monitored. The specialist of this operation, which is similar to composting, needs an infallible sense of smell to stop the fermentation at the right time.
Six months have passed since this story began, but the cigar is still far from being ready…
What happens next? The trimming of the leaves!
It is always on the sector of the plantation that one proceeds to the following stage: The leaves are trimmed for their departure to the factory. While they will have been previously rehumidified to find a certain flexibility, the leaves of cape and sub-cape and tripe are going to be manually cleared of their biggest ribs at the same time as the women who proceed to this operation will check the quality of each leaf and will sort them according to their color, their size and their texture. These workers treat the wrapper leaves that will be used to give the cigar its most beautiful ornament as carefully as if they were handling a fabric of great fragility and rarity.
Once these operations have been completed, we move on to the second fermentation!
This is more rigorous than the first and lasts about 60 days. Its purpose is to rid the tobacco of its last impurities and accentuate its particular aroma and inimitable flavor. During this fermentation, the temperature of fermentation should never exceed 42 ° C, otherwise, it will be necessary to undo the bundle and aerate the leaves before rebuilding the bundle for the rest of its process.
Once this fermentation is finished, the bundles will be definitively dismantled and the leaves will be laid on racks for a few days to rest. Once the resting of the leaves is finished, small bundles will be formed and wrapped in palm leaves to bring the precious veils to rest in the warehouses of the factories where they will improve for a minimum of two years.
Once the leaves are ready after these two years of rest, they will undergo no less than thirty operations in the heart of the factory to become the cigar that you have come to appreciate…
Now comes the most awaited and spectacular stage of the process:
The making of the cigar itself!
All the elaborated leaves finally arrive on the table of the Torcedor or the Torcedora, the cigar rollers, who will metamorphose each heap of leaves into wonderful cigars. The filler, coming from the different levels of harvest of the Criollo (ligero, seco, volado) will be skilfully mixed and torched lengthwise to facilitate the passage of the smoke throughout the module.
Once this tripe is ready, it will be rolled in the wrapper sheet, forming what is called the “doll”. The master cigar maker can then pass the ends to the guillotine to then pass the dolls to the press of calibration during half an hour, and then to adorn them with the most beautiful of the finery: a wrapper leaf of an irreproachable perfection. The cigar is finally born.
It is only waiting for you, cigar lovers from all over the world, to be tasted and appreciated for many years to come…
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