Is the whole of a cigar greater than the sum of its parts? This philosophic question was raised by more than 500 cigar smokers at the Cigar Blending portion of the Saturday Big Smoke seminars, where a panel of industry professionals smoked along with the crowd, comparing samples of Dominican and Nicaraguan tobaccos, followed by a blend of the finished C.A.O. LX2 cigar.
By 11 o'clock in the morning on Saturday, many attendees had already smoked some of the most enviable cigars on the market, but this session was different. Each audience member was given a small wooden cabinet four-pack sampler containing a flight of cigars: three petit coronas, and one robusto. The little cigars were puros, comprising only one type of tobacco per stick. The large cigar was a combination of all three tobaccos, plus other components. The point of this package was to smoke each type of tobacco leaf by itself in order to ascertain its inherent flavor character. After each tobacco was sampled individually, the final cigar is to be smoked. In doing so, one can identify the individual components in the finished cigar and how they stimulate the palate.
To the academic, this was an exercise in cigar deconstructionism—a critical analysis of the tobacco on a component level and how the tobaccos work within the context of the entire blend. But for the more casual cigar smoker, it was just a lot of fun and it's how the pros do it when determining a blend. Four industry professionals were guests on the panel talking about the blending process and smoking the tobacco.
José Seijas, inveterate blender for Altadis U.S.A. Inc. presided on the panel along with Rocky Patel of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, Mike Chiusano of Cusano Cigars and Tim Ozgener of C.A.O. International Inc., which provided the samplers.
Senior editor David Savona
"You need a tobacco that is going to stimulate the palate," offered Chiusano. "Something that is going to make you salivate and make you want to smoke the cigar more. Different tobaccos will hit different parts of your palate, and that's where smoking different varieties comes in."
"We do this all day long," added Ozgener, "but the burning properties of a cigar are also important and something we consider while smoking. But you can smoke one tobacco that's great and another tobacco that's great and then you blend them together and they fight. They clash. They don't work."
"Especially when it's dry," added Suckling. "Some tobaccos can really dry out the palate."
Rocky Patel chimed in stressing the importance of aging and fermenting the tobacco to full maturation. "You have to ferment out all the boron and ammonia and other elements that will make a cigar bitter," said Patel. "The pressure of the stacked tobacco perpetuates fermentation, which is a completely natural process."
The crowd moved on to the next little puro, containing nothing but Nicaraguan tobacco from Estelí, and delivering a distinctly different flavor experience than the first.
"The blending process is about proportion," offered Chiusano. "We could all get the same tobacco from the same farm and come up with totally different cigars."
Siejas talked about the Herculean task of sorting and fermenting the different tobaccos referring to the tonnage of tobacco that he is used to working with.
Eager attendees listen closely to the panel discussion.
After smoking the third puro, which consisted of Nicaraguan tobacco from Pueblo Nuevo and discussing the flavors of each, the Big Smoke audience got an idea as to what it is like to blend a cigar, to consider burn, flavor and palate stimulation and to try to attain the sometimes elusive factor of balance. Once they all lit up the final product, the smoking audience could more clearly taste the amalgamation of different tobaccos and understand the story that each tobacco had to tell.
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