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Cigar Insider: Ernest Gocaj of General Cigar

23 Oct 2017

For anyone interested in cigars and tobacco, CAO’s Fuma Em Corda is a fascinating release. The sight of its Arapiraca ligero filler leaves fermenting in thick ropes resembling coiled anacondas is unlike any other.

I was, of course, curious about the cigar, the tobacco, and the process, so I reached out to Ernest Gocaj, General Cigar’s director of tobacco procurement who’s deeply involved in the company’s adoption of many exotic strains from around the world.

Gocaj said he came upon the special tobacco used in the Fuma Em Corda in Alagoas, a small Brazilian state on the eastern coast. The rope fermentation process is used only in Alagoas and only for ligero leaves—those at the top of the tobacco plant often characterized by spice and strength.

Tobacco farmers in Alagoas use more conventional methods of fermenting the lower leaves to allow moisture and ammonia to dissipate.

“The tobacco from Alagoas is Arapiraca, a native seed that’s only grown there,” Gocaj said in an email. “For CAO Fuma Em Corda, we use only ligero leaves which are harvested and sun-cured, and we use this tobacco as filler.”

“Once the tobacco turns brown, the natives make it into a rope and twist it regularly to expel the juices of the tobacco. At this time, ammonia is released and the flavor is softened. In other words, the harshness is removed from the leaf. Everything is done in sunlight. The tobacco becomes very pure and refined through this method.”

Gocaj has been with General Cigar for about 20 years after earning a degree in agriculture in his native Albania and moving to the U.S. He has worked at the company’s Connecticut farming operation and has been instrumental in developing General’s vast tobacco library.

For CAO’s Amazon Basin series, the blends include tobaccos from numerous countries in addition to Brazil. Fuma Em Corda, the second in a planned trilogy, features a Cameroon binder and a Honduran wrapper. It is a limited release with a Robusto (5 x 50, $8.99) for brick-and-mortar retailers and a Toro (6 x 58, $10.49) for online sales.

I’ve smoked several of the Robustos, and they definitely stand out. From the rich, leathery pre-light aroma to the spicy, cedar start, the cigar makes a statement. Along the way, I also encountered chocolate, coffee, and some nuttiness. Strength is medium, with a good burn and strong smoke production.

“Curing under the sun and rope fermentation in an open environment has many advantages,” Gocaj wrote. “The result is tobacco with subtle flavors that blends well with other tobaccos. These methods produce a tobacco that is very pleasant to smoke.”

Like a lot of cigars containing unusual tobaccos or using different production methods—fire-cured tobacco is one example that comes to mind—the smoking experience is distinctive. Some will find it to their liking. Others won’t. I doubt many will be neutral.

For me, Fuma Em Corda is a cigar I’d reach for when I want something different, not on a steady basis. That’s not a knock. I’ve enjoyed those I’ve smoked and would certainly recommend any experienced cigar smoker give it a try.

George E

photo credit: General CigarStogie Guys

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