Do you like broadleaf tobacco? I cut my teeth on the stuff back in the day, puffing away on homely but tasty Muniemaker Breva 100s when I was in college. The cigars, then and now, were machine-made, but contained only tobacco. And they were wrapped with dark, rugged leaves of Connecticut broadleaf.
I recently returned from a short trip to several tobacco fields in north central Connecticut to look at the 2013 broadleaf crop for a story I'm doing on broadleaf for Cigar Aficionado. You'll read about it in the October issue. The plants were young, having just gone into the ground about a month prior to my visit, and had a long way to go in what had been a very rainy summer.
Some people are still surprised that the very northern, decidedly non-tropical state of Connecticut grows superb cigar tobacco. There's delicate and mild Connecticut shade, a tall plant that grows under tents of nylon, resulting in thin, light tan leaves found on such cigars as Macanudo and Fonseca.
Then there's broadleaf, a squat, bushy plant that basks in the straight sunlight and makes fat, thick and dark leaves. The bulk of it goes to machine-made cigars such as Backwoods, but the very best go on rich and dark maduro cigars, such as La Riquezas, Punch maduros and the ever rare and appealing Arturo Fuente Añejos. It's also the hallmark of the Liga Privada brand—named yesterday as the Hottest Cigar Brand in the United States by Cigar Insider.
Broadleaf has an inherent sweetness and big, bold earthy flavor. The crop goes into the ground in June, and workers were transplanting some of the year's final seedlings to a field when I made my trip. (Thankfully my visit was not on July 1, when a tornado touched down in a tobacco field in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. See our story on the damage here.)
The glacial soil of the Connecticut River Valley (think loam) and the hot, humid summers in central Connecticut make ideal conditions for the short growing cycle required by tobacco plants. Broadleaf is old school tobacco. They don't grow as much of it today as they once did (fewer than 2,000 acres a year are harvested today, five times smaller than what it was in the 1950s), because the lands where this tobacco thrives often earn a dear price as real estate. It's a cumbersome job to take care of a tobacco plant, and with a big, bold leaf like broadleaf, which can take three years or more to go from seed to smoke, it takes patience and pride to make it work. But cigar smokers like you are giving new life to this rustic old leaf.
Look for my story about the history of this interesting leaf in the next Cigar Aficionado, and in a few weeks check out the video I shot from the fields. And the next time you light up a maduro made with broadleaf, think about the hard work, time and history that went into that intriguing product.