the inside story on filler leaves
Clubs of America | Mar 06, 2018
While all tobacco leaves contribute to the making of a good cigar-smoking experience, the interior leaves, the “filler,” is where most of the flavor blending happens, and the personality of the cigar is rooted. Chosen for flavor, aroma and burn quality, these leaves are cautiously selected and blended.
Filler tobacco is grown in many different countries, and all have a few things in common — the seed strains most widely grown produce the most flavor; they are all grown in direct sun to bolster flavor; and all harvesting is done in stages, starting at the bottom of the bush and moving upwards. Each area of the plant offers a different leaf. The base provides leaves thinly textured with light flavors, known as volado in the Spanish language. Air cured for 45 days after harvesting, the leaves change from green to brown as the chlorophyll turns to carotene. Fermentation, a natural chemical process sort of like composting, follows the curing phase. During this time acidity, tar and nicotine are muted and reduced. Care is necessary as the leaves are fragile and can only withstand two gentle fermentations before being baled and allowed to rest before being used in the cigar-making process. The volado wears two different hats in cigar production. It’s a neutral filler used to temper other very rich or aggressive leaves. And because of its excellent combustion qualities, this leaf is the reason why your favorite cigars burn so evenly.
The seco, from the center of the plant, have medium body and texture. A sturdier lot, they go through the same curing process, but are treated to a more vigorous fermentation process and longer bale ageing. They form the backbone of the blend with their robust flavor and controlled-burn qualities. Finally, the thick, full-bodied ligero leaves from the crown of the plant orchestrate the overall flavor and personality of the cigar. Because these leaves can produce overpowering flavors, they need to be tempered with several fermentations, and then left to age for up to two years in the bale. Only then can they be used in successful blends and handsome hand-made cigars.
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