In the mood for something new? Check out our picks from Espinosa, CLE and more – just a sampling of the top new cigars at Famous Smoke Shop!
Tobacco Farming Part 8: Rolling Big Cigars, Quality Control, Pre – Roll Stripping & Sorting, and Final Aging.
Last month, I showed you how we ferment and age tobaccos used specifically for wrapper, and explained why our torcedors use the traditional, Cuban-style “entubar” method of rolling cigars. This month, I’ll explain how we make our 6″ x 60 Perdomo Habano Gordo, how we draw test our cigars, and other means we use for quality control. We’ll also revisit stripping and sorting, but this time you’ll learn how it’s done prior to rolling rather than prior to curing and aging.
Last month we left off in the rolling room where we showed you how we roll our Torpedoes. For this issue, I’m going to explain how we roll one of our bestselling cigars, the 6″ x 60 Perdomo Habano Gordo. The roller starts with a large Seco leaf, then puts some Viso inside of it, plus a little extra leaf because he’s making such a big cigar. As he continues to bunch the filler, he knows from experience just how much tobacco he needs to roll a cigar of this size. More importantly, he has to know how to fortify the blend so the strength is kept at a consistent 3/4 full in body strength. Better yet, let me show you.
Rolling Big Cigars
After the cigar is rolled into its binder, it will go into a press mold. Normally we use polymer molds. But for cigars of this size, we use wooden press molds made from mahogany and ash. The reason for this is, wood is more porous and gives the mold a little extra power when put into the press. Additionally, wooden molds open more easily for 60 ring and wider cigars.
After the roller has placed the cigars in the press mold it will spend 40 minutes in the press; 20 minutes on each side. When the cigars are ready, they will be draw tested then sent to another roller to apply the wrapper leaf. Watch this piece of video to see how a real pro does it.
You can have the best materials and the best people working for you, but if your construction isn’t on par every single day, your quality is going to suffer, and eventually your brand will fail. That’s why we draw test every cigar that comes off the rolling tables. Called drop pressure testing, it is one of the most important factors when it comes to making cigars that draw consistently well.
The draw testing machines are calibrated for each cigar size including its diameter. We also use a wooden board that has all of the different ring gauges cut into it. Each hole has a number that tells the person working the machine how the cigar should draw. A Robusto is going to have a different draw pressure than a Churchill or a Torpedo. So every cigar size has a different caliber on how it should draw. The wooden board is also used to ensure that the cigar has been rolled to the correct diameter. The reason for this is that we make each cigar box to fit the exact size and number of cigars that it will hold, so the length and diameter must be perfect. For example, if you’re smoking a 6″ x 54 Torpedo, the tolerance has to be for a 6″ x 54 Torpedo-period.
Stainless Steel vs. Wood, and Why
Another thing we do for quality control is use stainless steel press boards instead of the traditional wooden ash rolling boards. (Our boards are stainless on one side and ash on the other.) The reason for this is, stainless steel is cleaner. Secondly, the smooth metal surface permits the roller a little more room to properly stretch the wrapper leaf, plus you also get a much cleaner wrapper. The only catch is that because you’re cutting metal on metal, the chavetas (the cutting blades) have to be sharpened more often. Since we get much better results on the stainless boards, it’s worth it. Most factories still use the ash board, so here again, we’ve found another way to gain a leg-up on the competition and produce a better quality cigar.
A Quick Lesson in Quality Control
People always ask me, “How do you keep track of your numbers? How do you know how many cigars you roll each day?” Because we’re an entirely vertical company, making everything from planting the seedlings to making the boxes, we have to do a lot of planning. For example, the sales department must calculate what we’ll need for each quarter, be it new cigars, old cigars, etc. It’s really a science, and we do a very good job of it.
From Miami, the orders are forwarded to us, and divided up between each company division: the box factory, the packaging department, the production department, the tobacco sorting and selection department on fillers, binders, and wrappers, and every other department that plays a role in fulfilling the orders. It’s all on computer, but we also use a large grease board with this information, so the production department can get a quick idea of what’s in the queue. Then, as each job is completed or added, we can erase it and update it. It also helps speed-up the production process because each department knows exactly what they have to get done that day.
Our Strippers Strip Tobacco, Not Clothes
Earlier in this series you saw how we strip the filler leaves. At this stage of production we must strip the wrapper leaves before they’re rolled into cigars. The wrappers are brought from the fermentation room to the stripping room table tied in hands of 25 leaves. The hands are then untied and sorted by type such as Connecticut, Corojo, Maduro, etc. The ladies who work at the table first measure the leaves, then stretch them according to length, width, size, and texture of the tobacco. Then they strip out the middle vein and place the wrappers into piles for each respective leaf type.
Why Wrapper Leaves Pair Well with Bourbon
After they grade them for size and texture, the leaves are tied in balls of 50 leaves. From there the leaves are placed in old bourbon barrels to ferment for 96 hours. If you’ve ever heard the term “barrel aging,” this is how my Father did it in Cuba. The barrels are made of white French oak, and burned on the inside with an acetylene torch to create a charcoal lining. The charcoal acts as a filtering agent that not only helps clean the tobacco, but because of the oak and the alcohol residue that’s already embedded into the oak, it imparts a really nice flavor into the wrapper. It also evens the colors, while at the same time adds that special final fermentation that makes our tobacco so special. The barrels are also lined in burlap to prevent the wood from scratching or tearing the leaves, then hermetically sealed. The wrappers also maintain their humidity so they’re very elastic, making the leaf that much better when rolled.
During this series, I’ve told you how technology plays an important role in production today, but this is another old Cuban world tradition we still use, because it’s a great way to finish-off a wrapper before it goes into the rolling room.
Another aspect of barrel aging is the length of time the wrappers spend in the barrel. Our wrapper manager likes to age them for a minimum of 30 days, but she has also fermented them for as long as up to six months.
After the wrappers have been barrel aged for their appropriate time, they are sorted by size, width and texture and are ready to go to the rollers. The reason for this is, if a roller is going to be making Robustos, he or she will be handed wrappers that are sized to the exact dimensions of the cigar. Not only does this make it easier for the rollers to work, but they can work more efficiently.
“Heaven on Earth:” The Aging Room
Once during a tour of the factory, we lost one of our visitors. When we found him he was sitting on a chair in our aging room and said to me, “Nick, I feel like I’m in Heaven.” We’ve have over 8 million cigars aging in there, so for the avid cigar smoker, it really is like Heaven. Let me show you.
After all the quality control checks have been completed, the cigars are brought into the cedar lined aging rooms in wheels of 50.. All of the cigars are tagged with the date they were rolled, the type of cigar (like a Perdomo Habano Corojo), and the ring size. Even the shelves are marked with signs showing where each blend is located. If you remember how we moved the fermenting tobaccos on the pilons from bottom to top, we use a similar method in the aging room. In this case, we take the oldest aged cigars and move them all the way out behind the youngest cigars. Additionally, we pull the oldest cigars first so we can use our oldest inventory. The cigars sit in the aging room for approximately 182 days before they’re taken out. Though the cigars could be ready in less time, we go 182 days because we have such a large inventory of cigars on hand at any given time. The other reason we do it is, my Dad used to say, “This is our checking and savings account. This is how we make our living and our customers deserve the very best!” That’s why we make so many cigars and keep a large inventory of fully-aged cigars ready to go all year round.
How do we know when the cigars are ready to leave the room? We use a meter that we can stick into the cigar and it tells us the moisture levels of the cigar, so we know which cigars are fully-aged. In a nutshell, the aging process is two-fold: water dissipation and tobaccos marrying into one. So, even if the same cigars were made on the same day, it may take longer for one wheel to age then the wheel next to it. To give you an idea of what cigar heaven looks like.