During my two weeks in Cuba, I visited a few tobacco growers. Cigar is such an inextricable part of Cuban culture. After Columbus's voyage, tobacco had a major impact in Europe and brought the habit to major port cities; regard in Europe as having therapeutic qualities. After the revolution, the US embargo had a serious effect on the international sale of cigars (puros) but since the 1990s the fashion for cigar smoking has given a boost to sales.
At Finca Montesino, a third generation tobacco producer, I got the low down of this laborious time consuming process of making great cigars. Ninety percent of the crop is sold to the government. The family can sell cigars from the 10% they are allowed to keep. The Finca, farmhouse is located deep in the valley bottom filled with cultivated lands-mainly tobacco. Picturesque Viñales Valley is truly a Paradise, quite spectacular and probably one of the most beautiful farm-valley landscapes I have seen. It is also one of Cuba's greatest natural attractions, declared a National Natural Monument for its remarkable landscapes surface where mogotes stand. A magnificent Limestone formation with enormous caves with bats circling.
Nicotiana, with a delicate fragrant floral scent, it is planted in their winter months December thru February with an average of 75 degrees. This first part of the process, called curing- takes between 25 and 45 days and it varies based upon climatic conditions as well as the construction of a barn to store harvested tobacco. The curing process is manipulated based upon the type of tobacco, and the desired color of the leaf.
When rolling cigars, the tripa, which is only a few middle leaves are essential and selected in order to obtain particular flavor and has the most nicotine. The capa is the wrapper leaf on the outside of the cigar that gives the cigar its smooth, velvety look as well as its color. The capote, the binder leaf layer holds the inner part together and keeps it compact.
Appearance is critical to the individual cigar. The torcedor checks its diameter with a special gauge stamped with the various standard sizes established for every kind of cigar. Fatter cigar tends to have a fuller flavor, that most connoisseurs prefer. The best hand-rolled Cuban cigars benefit from aging, like fine wine. The third plantation we visited, their tobacco leaves are sprinkle with concoction of pineapple juice, lemon, honey water, cinnamon, and cognac for stronger flavor.
It is said that in the 18th century. Catherine the Great of Russia, a heavy smoker, had her cigars wrapped with small bands of cloth so they would not leave stains on her fingers. Her eccentricity soon became fashionable and a trend till today.
Check out these links for more info:
Calle M, No 257 Penthouse; 53-7-832-6890
Dinner for two is around 54 CUC
Serves Cuban-Continental food on a tranquil terrace.
Callejon del Chorro, No 60-C, Plaza de la Catedral; 53-7-861-1332
Dinner for two is around 42 CUC
It's the place to go for down-home Cuban food in Old Havana.