Where When How — March/April 2017
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Island Perspectives Artist/Designer Jennifer Maude
Sophie Newstead


CIGAR ROLLING. NO MATTER HOW quALITY A CIGAR’S CONSTITuENT TOBACCO LEAvES, WITHOuT A STELLAR CIGAR ROLLER AT THE HELM OF ITS FINAL ROLL AND WRAP, there’s little kudos that can be given to the quintessential traditional cigar. For cigar rollers of 10 years Francisco Soza and Maria Huete, also husband and wife, making cigars by hand (hecho a mano) is second nature. The past five years in the craft have been spent in The Saltmills-situated cigar factory, Cuban Crafters. The ease and pace at which they make them was apparent as soon as we walked in, a freshly rolled cigar mound lay in front of Maria and Francisco with a pile of unrolled tobacco leaves and wraps lying behind, and a cigar mould and cigar press on either side. By the end of the day, every day, Franscisco and Maria manage to hand roll a cigar pile 200 strong. An impressive feat, given the expert craftsmanship needed in rolling a good quality Cuban.

The process? Maria explains. “Francisco makes the cigars by folding six different tobacco leaves into a bundle, which are then put into a circular wooden cigar mould for 30 minutes. They’re then placed in the press for 30 minutes to tighten, then I use a chaveta to cut and apply the end wrap to the cigar. Once the first batch is done, they are placed in the humidor for three weeks to dry out, then they’re ready to smoke.”

Like vintage wine, I wondered if the Humidor was similar to the role a cellar plays to a bottle of red; the longer you leave it, the better it tastes. Francisco clarifies. “Yes, the longer you leave cigars in the Humidor the better quality they turn out to be.” It turns out cigars can be aged for decades given the right humidity, and portable Humidors share the same aim of retaining the oils within the cigar, without staying too wet, or going too dry.

All cigars in Cuban Crafters are (quite surprisingly) Cuban. Cuban seeds are used and grown in Nicaragua, and then the tobacco leaves and wraps are brought here to hand-roll. Wraps largely dictate the flavour, with the colour often being used to name the cigar as a whole. Different cigar strengths require different wraps, Maria and Francisco use four: extra mild, mild, medium, and full-bodied. The bestseller in Cuban Crafters Maria explains is a more mild cigar, “A lot of people like the Robusto [traditionally known as a Rothschild], which is a mild cigar that’s 5” x 50, so shorter in size.” The Robusto apparently strikes a balance between the strength of flavour, retaining its fullness, and the time it takes to smoke, around 30 to 45 minutes (to put into perspective, the biggest standard cigar, the 7.5 inch Double Corona, takes at least an hour to smoke).

The quality of cigars, just like the quality of many goods, is at its highest when it’s handmade. Certain standards are required for a quality cigar, such as a certain amount of space needed between tobacco leaves when rolled, to allow the right amount of air to travel down the cigar in order to smoke. With the rise in demand and the faster machine-made production of cigars rampant in the 1980s and 90s, the craftsmanship of cigar rollers fell. However, the superiority attributed to the skill and speed required by a seasoned cigar roller, rendered handmade cigars a mark of quality and prestige

The stages of rolling: rolling the leaves, moulding the shape, pressing to tighten, wrapping to finish. Rolling a cigar may only take four steps, but years to perfect. And at the hands of Maria and Francisco, cigar rolling represents not only craftsmanship but a fading, highly prized expertise, steeped in the same fortitude as equivalent high-end artisanal crafts diluted by their machine-made successors. ??

Cuban Crafters #18 The Saltmills, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands | 649.946.4600 | www.cubancrafterstci.com