A Short Primer on Maduro-Cured Tobaccos
By Gary Korb
Spanish for "ripe," when you think of a "maduro cigar" one of the first words that comes to mind is "dark." And that's the idea. The longer tobacco leaves are fermented, the darker they get. Note that there is no specific "Maduro" leaf, as there is say, a "Corojo" or "Criollo" leaf. Cigar smokers who think maduro cigars are strong will be surprised that this extra fermentation process actually makes the leaf milder and most often sweeter, as well. This natural sweetness is the result of exposing the leaves to extra sunlight during the growing period. Moreover, the leaf essentially "tans," becoming darker, and also produces more oils. For this reason, the leaves used for curing most maduro wrapper are taken from the top two-thirds of the plant. Suffice it to say, the strength of full-bodied maduro cigars is due more to the filler used, like ligero, than the darkness of the wrapper.
The secret to getting good Maduro leaf is dependent on one of several fermentation processes based on what the Master Blender wants to achieve in terms of color, flavor and strength. Connecticut Broadleaf, Habano (Cuban seed), and Mexican-grown Sumatra are the most commonly used leaves for fermenting and curing Maduro. However, as you can see by the list of cigars featured in this month's sampler, Brazilian-grown leaf has become a staple for its thickness, oily sheen and spicier character.
So how does a maduro leaf attain its dark color? One technique is to ferment the leaves longer at a much higher temperature, generally around 150-degrees, rather than the average 110-degrees used to ferment "Natural" wrappers.
Some blenders use a method called "cooking." During this process, the leaves are placed in a steam chamber that can reach temperatures as high as 180-degrees or more. As a result, the leaves not only attain an even darker color, they're also milder in flavor. This is one way to produce "Oscuro" wrapper, the darkest and often the oiliest of maduro leaves.
There is also a third "shortcut" method which most veteran Master Blenders detest. This process involves using dyes and sugar to darken and sweeten the leaf. If you notice some stain on your fingers or lips, the wrapper was most likely made using this process. It may even be a well-made and flavorful cigar, but once the cat's out of the bag, it's a buzz kill for a lot of cigar smokers.
It's likely that you've had at least a few Maduro cigars by now. That said, if you haven't had the pleasure of smoking a well-made cigar with a naturally fermented maduro wrapper, you're missing out on some marvelous smokes.