Curing and Fermentation
In our last Life of the Leaf post, we started the process of growing and harvesting the tobacco leaf. This time, we’ll finish the process up to actually making the cigar.
After a leaf is harvested, it’s green, moist, and healthy. Not what you want to bundle up and smoke. The raw tobacco leaf has too many unpleasant (and unhealthy) chemicals like ammonia, chlorophyl, and nicotine in large amounts.
The first step in mellowing out the leaf is curing. This process is also referred to as drying. It can be 4-6 week process. Small groups of leaves are tied together and hung in tobacco curing barns (casa de tobacco).
Curing methods include air (letting nature take it’s course), fire, flue or in some countries, direct sunlight. Each method produces a different result. The fire and flue methods allow heat to flow over the leaves. During this time, water and chlorophyl are drawn out of the leaf, turning it from bright green, to yellow, to brown. Once the leaves are a nice brown with slightly curved edges, it’s on to fermentation.
Fermentation is the first part of the aging process. The leaves are gathered together into bundles or stacks, one on top of the other. During this time, the remaining moisture in the leaves and natural enzymes further break down the remaining chemicals in the leaves.
In the middle of the bundles, naturally occurring heat is carefully monitored. When the temperature inside reaches the desired point, the bundles are taken apart and rearranged, with leaves from the inside moved outward, and vice-versa. This continual shifting of the leaves ensures mold and degradation don’t happen.
The big key in fermentation though, is the development of flavor, the balancing of sugars, (much like wines and spirits), and the dissipation of the nicotine.
This is particularly important as most of the bad effects people feel when smoking cigars (scratchy throat, bitterness, long-lasting rough aftertaste) are a result of improperly or young tobacco, as the nicotine content is still too high. Most store bought cigars have tobacco that is less than a year old. Some of these conditions are also caused by dyes and chemicals that have to be added to give the appearance of aging.
Properly fermented and well aged tobacco should never give you a rough smoke. The more aging that goes on, the more mellow and smooth the smoke should be.
At PAYNE-MASON, we understand how important this aging process is. This is why we use tobacco that has been aged between 5 and 8 years, for the ultimate smoothness.
After fermentation, the leaves go into large humidors for the additional aging, and then the fun part… It gets made into a cigar.
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