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Smoke: Mature Only

Richard Carleton Hacker

Maduro tobaccos are considered too thick and too costly to use for anything but wrapper leaf. Thus a maduro (the Spanish word for "mature" or "ripe") cigar is only wrapped in—not filled with or bound with—one of the rough-hewn, brownish-black tobaccos of the same name. However, last year, Caribe Imported Cigars, known for its full-bodied Honduran Camacho, La Fontana, and Baccarat brands, introduced the Camacho Triple Maduro, the first cigar in which wrapper, binder, and filler all are made of maduro tobaccos.

"It took me nine months to come up with an all-maduro blend," says Christian Eiroa, president of Caribe Imported Cigars. "But maduro is a thick leaf, and the completed cigars were so thick they were not burning right. So it became a matter of experimenting with the right primings." Primings are the rows of leaves on a tobacco plant. An average plant has six primings; the higher from the ground the priming, the stronger the tobacco.

The Triple Maduro comprises five maduro tobacco varieties, all of which are grown in Honduras. "In the beginning, I was getting maduro tobaccos from different growers and importing it. But I couldn’t get it to work," says Eiroa. "I almost felt like an alchemist, looking all over the world for a magic ingredient, when all the time I’m actually sitting right on it."

After the leaves have been primed (picked) and cured (air-dried), they assume the traits that characterize maduro tobacco while they ferment. During the normal fermentation process, the temperature within the huge piles of leaves (called burros and measuring from 3 to 6 feet tall and weighing from 8,000 to 10,000 pounds) is allowed to reach from 90 degrees to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. However, with maduro, temperatures are permitted to rise dramatically higher, well over 165 degrees. In this heat, the leaves turn much darker than they do in the cooler temperatures, and more sugars evolve from the leaves’ starches, lending maduro cigars a rich, sweet taste.

"You lose a lot of leaves [during maduro fermentation], and some will not turn the color you want," says Manuel Quesada, president of the Dominican Republic’s MATASA, which makes Fonseca, Licenciados, Cubita, and other cigars. "So the leaves you have left become more expensive. You’ve spent more time, you’ve spent more labor, and you’ve also lost some tobacco, so your price increases trying to produce a maduro [wrapper] cigar. Yet we do not charge more for them. If I ever sat down and actually calculated the cost to make a maduro wrapper, I would never make maduro cigars."

As Quesada notes, not all tobacco can withstand the intense heat of maduro fermentation. Delicate leaves, such as Connecticut shade, would decompose and break apart. Ligero leaves, which grow on the uppermost primings of the plant, where nutrients are concentrated, are best suited. Some of the finest maduros are made from Mexican tobaccos, Connecticut broadleaf, Costa Rican Criollo 98, and Mata Fina from Brazil.

"People get intimidated when they see a dark cigar," says Eiroa. "They think it’s going to be strong. The Triple Maduro is a good case in point. You look at it and you think it’s going to be a powerful cigar. But once people taste it, they find it’s medium- to full-bodied, but the flavor is so complex, you really don’t think about the strength."

Caribe Imported Cigars, www.camachocigars.com

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