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Green Gold

Long Savored Along the Mediterranean, Olive Oil is Adding Zest to America's Diet
Sam Gugino
From the Print Edition:
Orlando Hernandez, Mar/Apr 99

(continued from page 4)

"First, there is the tremendous amount of tradition behind the making of both products, signified by strong family values," says Monroe, the father of three, who was hired by a Bertolli family member when he joined the company in 1982. "Then there is the fact that both products require master blenders, and are 100 percent agricultural. Cigars, wine, olive oil--they are all in a similar category."

With an eye toward tradition, loyalty and heritage, it's no surprise that Monroe's favorite cigars come from two of the industry's most heralded producers--La Aurora and Arturo Fuente. Preferring a mild- to medium-bodied smoke, Monroe counts León Jimenes, Aurora Belicoso and the gentler Fuente lines as his go-to cigars.

Artistry and quality are important to Monroe, who recognizes and applauds craftsmanship. "When you make the world's number one olive oil, you begin to look for the number one cigars, and the best way to enjoy them," he says, mindful that the human hand plays an integral role in harvesting and nurturing both products.

Monroe, 54, was a former cigarette smoker who gave up the habit three years ago because the aftertaste made him feel "unhealthy." Shortly thereafter, Monroe attended a cigar dinner and became a convert almost instantly, appreciating the taste of the cigars and the feeling one gets from smoking in a cigar-friendly environment. "You can meet a lot of interesting people who understand and enjoy cigars," he says. "People aggressive in their careers, who appreciate taste. In a relaxed environment, a cigar and its aroma complete the setting."

For Monroe, an avid golfer, the preferred setting for a smoke is usually the golf course; or, when he has the time, at cigar bars such as JR Tobacco, the combination cigar shop/cigar bar in Whippany, New Jersey, just a chip shot away from both Monroe's home and office. Sometimes the setting is in Italy, where he travels at least twice a month for Bertolli board meetings and to visit olive farms. Monroe's favorite cigar size is a robusto, because it's manageable in the hand and allows him to savor the smoke in a short period, at the "right moment."

Monroe recalls a recent "right moment" that characterizes his growing appreciation for cigars. On a warm spring night in Tuscany, near Lucca, Italy, the birthplace of Bertolli, one of those magical cigar moments close to every aficionado's heart presented itself without warning. Outside a fifteenth century villa, with a full moon glowing in the sky and a low mist rising over rows of olive trees, Monroe lit up a León Jimenes No. 1 and watched his smoke merge into the haze. "The moment was begging for a cigar," recalls Monroe. "And it wouldn't have been the same without one." --Jason Sheftell

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