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Before we get into this discussion, we need to a little background. Each of these varietal families (Virginia, Burley, Oriental) is a direct descendant of Nicotiana tabacum. Through genetics these distinct types have been developed along with numerous hybrids of each variety. Also, just like cigar tobacco, the microclimate where the tobacco is grown, the trace elements in the soil, and the specific way the tobacco is processed have a great affect on how the tobacco tastes when smoked. Virginia tobaccos are the most widely grown varietal family in the world, growing in Maryland through the Carolinas and other states, in Canada, from Central America to Brazil, several African countries, in Europe and Asia; and is a base tobacco in many pipe tobacco blends. While most of the Virginia grown in the world is used for cigarettes, higher grade varietals and heavier leaves are used for producing pipe tobaccos. Perique is actually a Burley type tobacco, which is grown and processed in St. James Parish, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans. The only place in the world Perique can be grown is in a small section of St. James Parish near the town of Paulina. This is due to both the climate, and the unusual soil of the area, which is referred to as "Magnolia" soil; a dark and highly fertile alluvial soil. Perique is the rarest of the basic tobaccos used in pipe tobaccos. Only a few barrels of this tobacco are produced each year. Perique's strength and aroma is the strongest of all basic tobaccos. Perique is usually used in Virginia blends. It has a dark, oily appearance, and a taste of pepper and figs. Its flavor is very strong, so it isn't usually found in high percentages in a blend. It can be smoked straight, but isn't intended to be. Its role as a complement to Virginia is not just because of its flavor. Being highly acidic, it tends to alleviate alkaline tongue bite, which is so often a problem with Virginia tobacco. The process by which this tobacco is produced pre-dates Columbus. Perique is air-cured like Burley, but for a slightly shorter time period. After drying and hand stripping of the central leaf stalk, the tobacco leaves are packed into bundles and placed in old barrels, which have formerly been used for storing bourbon whiskey. The bundles are packed under high pressure in the barrels and allowed to cure in their own juices (which collect as run-off at the top of the barrels). In addition, the pressure increases the temperature of the tobacco and facilitates a fermentation process. Over the course of at least one year the leaves are removed, rested, re-piled, and re-fermented, numerous times. Without any air to interact with the tobacco, Perique ferments anaerobically, producing the distinctive taste. This vigorous process, which could take several years before the tobacco is ready to be used, creates an extremely robust tobacco that has a very high nicotine content. Perique tobacco is very expensive due to the time and care needed to make it. Fortunately, Perique is considered a "spice" or "condiment" tobacco, which is used, in very small amounts to accent other blends.
St. James Perique is extremely rare, so the tobacco is produced elsewhere to meet demands, though without the same results. Kentucky Green River Burley is most commonly used to make Perique. This particular version is the Perique that most pipe smokers are familiar with.