Thursday, March 2, 2017
True Cuban cigars take time, tender loving care

Osvaldo Rodriguez, a multilingual guide at the tobacco farm of Hector Luis Prieto in Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo region of Pinar del Rio, inspects a leaf of shade-grown tobacco on Monday. Cigar enthusiasts around the world agree that the farm produces some of the finest leaves in the country, and therefore, the world.

Located in the island’s westernmost province, generations of farmers have perfected the process of cigar-making, using the highly fertile, bright, red soil and timing the planting and harvesting with the region’s unique microclimate. Great care is given from start to finish.

While some farms have begun using machinery to till their fields, the soil must still be prepped the old-fashioned way with a farmer on a sled that is pulled by a pair of oxen. The tobacco seeds, which closely resemble “termite dust,” (a description that any Key Wester can understand), are meticulously planted a foot or so apart in a razor-straight line.

Details like these apply throughout the process, so much so that a new book about the tobacco industry, titled “539,” was released this week during the 19th annual Cigar Festival. From lining the fields with manure, to aging and fermenting the various leaves for years, it takes 539 steps to create — arguably — the world’s finest cigars. The average price for one is between $10 to $30, and often much more.

Keep this in mind the next time a total stranger on the streets of Havana says, “My ‘fring’ (sic), I make a nice price for you for real Cuban cigars.” Have fun with that.