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An Interview with Benjamin Menendez

Speaking with Benjamin Menendez, senior vice president of General Cigar Co., the maker of Macanudo, Partagas, La Gloria Cubana and many more cigars.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Chris Noth, May/June 2010

(continued from page 1)

Q: What is a Cameroon plant like?
A: It’s not a very large plant. You throw away a very good percentage of that plant by weight. But you’re talking maybe 10, 12 leaves in the plant total. So you might be talking five, six leaves.

Q: That’s low yield.
A: Today, prices are not that high, but when I started using Cameroon, the prices were around $20, $25 per pound. I’m talking 1963. Connecticut was only $8, $9 a pound. So you see the difference. Then it came down significantly. And then it went back up. But the problem is not only the face price of the tobacco, but the yield and the breakage that you have to worry about. That’s where your cost starts piling up very fast. That’s one of the reasons people have shied away from Cameroon.

Q: So that’s the negative about Cameroon—what’s the positive?
A: The taste. It’s very good burning. And just for looks—because I don’t believe it really matters—it’s a very white ash. And to tell you the truth, I don’t think the white ash means a heck of a lot. A black ash is no good. But a lead colored ash? That’s not bad at all. But Cameroon has the privilege of being white. And its the chemical composition in the soil naturally that makes it white.

Q: What is the rest of the cigar made of?
A: The components are piloto Cubano ligero [from the Dominican Republic], ligero from Estelí, Nicaragua, and Ometepe [Nicaragua]. And the binder is Habano grown in Connecticut. I’m really thrilled about that tobacco—it’s very good tobacco. And when you look back many years ago, that was one of the parents of Connecticut shade. The wrapper that was grown in Connecticut for many years was Habano seed.

Q: Describe making the blend.
A: We went through more than 200 blends. We kept on going. I came to a point, and it’s the only time that I had really stepped in, and I said “OK guys—this is it. We can go on forever, and we can always make one better. But at some point in time we have to start selling cigars.”

Q: What component was the one that brought it all together?
A: The one that really cinched it was the Habano binder. We tried piloto Cubano, olor, broadleaf, Mexican. When you look at the original Partagas, it had a Mexican binder.

Q: It still does, right?
A: Yellow box Partagas [the original Partagas] still has Mexican binder.

Q: Were you trying to make a more intense Partagas? What was your goal?
A: It was a Partagas that was not a Spanish Rosado or a Black Label, but more flavor, more strength. At one point in time, when you go back to ’95, ’96, Partagas was a full-bodied cigar. The world has changed. Today Partagas in the yellow box has become medium bodied. I wanted to bring back some of that spirit of
the Partagas.

Q: Do you think General needed this cigar?
A: Very much so. It’s a very small product, but it reminded people that Partagas is still alive. And Partagas is not Black Label or the yellow box. It has another life.

Q: What’s your philosophy of making cigars?
A: When I make a cigar, the first thing I’m looking for is flavor. Then I will use strength as I use salt in my meal, to enhance the flavor. First the flavor, then the strength. With this cigar, we’re using two strong components: the piloto Cubano ligero and the ligero from
Estelí, Nicaragua.

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