The Cigar from Brazil
Americans love the rich flavor of Brazilian tobacco, but will they ever acquire a taste for cigars that are made in Brazil?
From the Print Edition:
Emeril Lagasse, Sept/Oct 2005
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, the popular Brazilian book that became a hit movie starring Sonia Braga in the 1970s, tells a story that could only be Brazilian, and could only take place in the sensuous tropical Brazilian state of Bahia.
A voluptuous young woman, Flor is married to an irresistible bad boy who gambles away her hard-earned cash, carouses all night with his pals, drinks too much, laughs, sings and dances. She loves him madly, as do quite a number of other young women in town. He dies one day—happy, of course, dancing down the street in his Carnival costume—and eventually Flor is persuaded to marry again. This time she weds an older man, a respectable pharmacist, who comes to bed on his wedding night buttoned up in his pajamas.
Like so many heroines before her, Dona Flor has left passion and sensuality behind her—a time-honored progression, both in literature and life. But the author here is the Brazilian Jorge Amado, and what happens next is quintessentially Brazilian. If you've seen the movie, you're probably laughing already. For who can keep a straight face remembering Flor, lying dutifully under the second husband on that wedding night, and gazing up—not at the ceiling, but straight into the laughing eyes of her first husband, who's come back to her, naked no less, and it goes from there.
It is no coincidence that the Menendez Amerino Co. decided to call the fine line of cigars it has just begun exporting to the United States Dona Flor, with all the passion and sensuality that the name elicits. And like Dona Flor's first husband, who comes back from beyond, Menendez Amerino is trying once again to make its mark in the U.S. market. Although Brazilian cigars have never truly won the hearts of Americans, and remain vacant from nearly all cigar shop humidors, the country's rich tobaccos are a proven winner, and do quite well in cigar blends made in other countries.
Consider the success of the C.A.O. Brazilia, a cigar made in Honduras with an oily, dark Brazilian wrapper leaf. C.A.O. International Inc. launched the brand in 2001 to rousing success. The idea of calling it Brazilia scared people who consulted with C.A.O., and many warned the company against using such a name.
"Most of the traditional tobacco dealers told me, 'I wouldn't say that it's Brazilian,'" says Tim Ozgener, vice president of C.A.O. "A lot of people didn't promote the fact that they used Brazilian tobacco."
Ozgener not only ignored the warning, he went full guns with the Brazil name and theme. Each box is resplendent in the distinctive green, yellow and blue of the Brazilian flag. The Honduran-made cigars are finished with a leaf of Arapiraca tobacco that gives the cigar a fuller body than other C.A.O.s. It's one of the company's best-selling brands.
H. Upmann, one of the biggest premium cigar brands in the United States, has some Brazilian leaf in its filler blend. So do some of its line extensions. Brand owner Altadis U.S.A. Inc. also uses Brazilian tobacco in its Player's Club brand, as part of the filler and as a wrapper.
"Brazil filler was used a lot in the early days of CIT, Compania Insular Tabacalera, in the Canary Islands," says José Seijas, vice president of Tabacalera de Garcia Ltd., Altadis U.S.A.'s major cigar factory. "The combination of Brazil and Dominican olor and piloto was the choice of the Cuban expatriates to produce the cigars right after their departure from Cuba. This was the combination that they liked the most after testing many other combinations." Seijas uses mostly Mata Fina tobacco, which he describes as medium to strong, with a sweet taste and great aroma.
"We used lots of Brazil wrappers in Primo del Rey in the '60s and '70s," says Seijas. "The burning of this wrapper was exceptional as well as its flavor and appearance. The Brazil wrapper we are using these days goes from dark brown to really dark in some cases, like a darkened maduro. This is a sun-grown tobacco, and again the taste is sweet and neutral, making it a good candidate to blend with other parts of the cigar. One very good characteristic of the Brazil wrapper we use is its burning properties and striking white ash. Arapiraca is a heavier wrapper. Some people use it for maduros due to its heavy body."
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Rodrigo Menck — São Paulo, SP, Brazil, — October 1, 2010 12:18pm ET
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