The Cigar Rolling Process
If you ever get to visit a cigar factory, you're in for a treat. In fact, you'll probably leave thinking it's a minor miracle that cigars don't cost $20 apiece. The manufacture of handmade cigars is a truly extensive process, which includes the growing, harvesting, and curing, to the leaf selection, rolling, and quality control, to the banding, packing, box-making and so on. Fortunately, from time to time, we host "rolling events" at our retail store, and this gives a small glimpse into the art of cigar rolling itself (and you don't have to travel to Central America to see it!). Each rolling event typically features a master roller from some of the top factories in Central America or the Caribbean. The process is fascinating. At one of our recent events, Roberto, a master roller from Victor Sinclair, gave us a blow by blow description of the rolling process.
First, he prepares the fillers, which you might be tempted to think consisted merely of bunching leaves together. However, Roberto displayed an old method called entubar which originated in Cuba and is performed to achieve superior air flow through the cigar. It entails painstakingly folding each individual leaf onto itself prior to bunching to promote an even burn and draw, then surrounding it with a coarse binder leaf which holds it together. This sounds easy enough, but done by a novice your cigar would look more like a wadded up newspaper than a cigar!
After properly shaping the filler, the bunch is placed into a cedar mold where it will remain for 30 to 45 minutes. During this time, Roberto unfolds a moist towel, uncovering the most expensive part - the high-quality wrapper leaves.
Roberto clears the cedar rolling platform - which is actually a sliver cut from a tree trunk - of any loose tobacco and debris before beginning the important task of applying the wrapper. He takes pride in his rolling platform, as it has been passed down for generations throughout his family. After cautiously inspecting the leaf, Roberto chooses the best part of the leaf and uses his chaveta (roller's knife) to masterfully sculpt it into the optimum shape for wrapping his cigar. Like his platform, the chaveta is also a family heirloom. He applies a small amount of vegetable glue, better known as pectin, to ensure that his wrapper will remain secure.
The wrapper is now primed and Roberto removes a perfectly shaped bunch from the mold. After cutting it to length, he applies the wrapper carefully from foot to head, retracing any 'mis-rolls' along the way. With the cigar wrapped, the cap is ready to be applied. Traditionally, caps are formed by using a knife similar to a large punch cutter to cut a circle shape out of the wrapper leaf. This circle is then applied to the head of the cigar. [Roberto has a flair for the dramatic, and decides to create a pigtail at the head of the cigar by holding the cap and spinning the cigar. Using his chaveta, he tucks the end of the pigtail to form a knot, delighting onlookers.]
Finally, the moment we have been waiting for: the application of the cigar band. Again, using the vegetable glue, he applies the band to the cigar and holds it up for the crowd. Almost from seed to smoke, the master roller passes the tradition and pride of his family to a stranger through his hands.
Now that you know a little bit about the process, learn how to actually roll a cigar!