If the summer weather had been good in Florence in 1815 we wouldn’t be here talking about one of Italy’s most symbolic products, the Toscano cigar. And we wouldn’t have been able to talk about its 200-years of life, about its historical importance, and about how, held between so many Italian fingers, it has shaped and inspired our culture and the success of Italian creativity worldwide.
Created thanks to a fortuitous summer storm when a bale of tobacco left to dry in the sun at Manifattura Tabacchi in Florence was suddenly dampened by the rain, the Italian cigar owes it success to the decision taken by the factory manager not to throw it all in the Arno but to wait for it to dry.
This decision, thankfully for us, proved to be very astute as the tobacco began to ferment. A natural process that made the cigar what it is, giving rise to its famous “secret” formula: Kentucky tobacco, water and cornflour. Because it is this process of fermentation that gives the Toscano its unique flavour. It was a big success, and in 1818 Grand Duke Ferdinand III built a new factory and officially began the production of the Toscano cigars.
Since then its original recipe has remained unchanged. Only 100% natural, strictly GMO-free Kentucky tobacco is used. Left to mature for up to 12 months, it is then entrusted to the expert hands of its female cigar rollers. These women, who continue to follow the traditional process that has been used for two centuries, can still be seen at work in the Lucca factory, preparing the much-loved Stortignaccolo, the affectionate nickname given the Italian cigar because of its irregular shape (‘storto’ means crooked in Italian).
One thing that has developed over time, meanwhile, is the culture generated by this symbol of Italians. A term that fits perfectly with the Toscano cigar.
In fact, over time the meaning of a word often takes on nuances that distance it from its original significance, its root. Let’s take the term ‘culture’. We all attribute different meanings to the word, all of which more or less correct. But many of us overlook the fact that it stems directly from ‘cultivate’. And this is what the Toscano cigar has been doing for 200 years: “cultivating” its admirers, going beyond the mere consumption of a product. This is why when we talk about the original Italian cigar we evoke a world of history, sensations and culture.
A large part of the credit for this success must go to the great Masters who, over the years, have chosen the Italian cigar as their muse, companion and source of inspiration. From classical music to the cinema, from literature to politics and television, the Toscano cigar has been seen between the fingers of Giuseppe Garibaldi, Pietro Mascagni, Giacomo Puccini, Mario Soldati, Marcello Mastroianni, Totò, Burt Lancaster and Amedeo Modigliani, all the way down to Tony Servillo and Paolo Sorrentino.
This array of different names effectively emphasizes its broad appeal and demonstrates how, even today, it continues to attract the attention of the public.
As such, talking about the Toscano cigar is like talking about Italy, about its people, about the commitment, affection and effort that has gone into perfecting the Stortignaccolo over the years and establishing it as a superior quality product but also, and above all, a friend. An Italian friend.
MANIFATTURE SIGARO TOSCANO, GUARDIANS OF TRADITION
A lot of time has passed since 1818 but nothing has changed in terms of the process used to make the cigar. Because even though technology has evolved, every process – from sowing to drying, browning to de-stemming – is carried out as it has been for the last two centuries.
What has changed, for the better, is the amount of attention focused on each production phase. A rigorous and attentive quality control process ensures that every cigar produced, whether sold in Italy or abroad, is of the necessary quality to fully satisfy its many demanding connoisseurs.
The attentive guardian of this time-honored tradition is Manifatture Sigaro Toscano (MST), owner of the Toscano brand, whose mission is to familiarize the entire world with this unique product, an integral part of Italian history and tradition.
MST has a turnover of EUR 100 million producing 203 million cigars.
Increasingly popular abroad, the Toscano cigar is present in over 77 countries. It is available over Europe, but also in Japan, the US, Canada, Australia, Israel, Lebanon, Russia and Argentina, as well as in Italian duty free stores, on cruise ships and in the main international airports.
The Toscano cigar is present in the US: Toscano 1492, Antico Toscano, Toscano Classico, Toscanello Aroma Vaniglia, Toscanello Aroma Caffè, Toscanello Aroma Grappa, Toscanello Aroma Cioccolato, Toscanello.
The Kentucky farmers represent a strategic link on the Toscano cigar production chain and MST is their main buyer, purchasing 90% by value of the entire national production, a percentage that reaches 100% in the case of the wrapper, quality-wise the finest part of the tobacco. A series of efforts designed to keep a high-quality raw material in Italy and guarantee the prospects and continuity of the Italian production chain.
Toscano cigars is made only with 100% Kentucky Fire Cured tobacco. The Kentucky tobacco grow in Italy and in the United States (Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi).
The basal and middle leaves are only used as filler for the Toscano cigar. The apical ones are used exclusively for the wrapper. The integrity of the leaves is the crucial requirement for better job characteristics.
Kentucky tobacco used for the Toscano cigar is dried in the fire for 20 days. This activity is performed in a convenient location that allows burning aromatic wood, and absorption of these flavors promotes tobacco.
This is one of the most important process of the production of Toscano cigars and it’s one of the uniqueness of the brand.
THE FERMENTATION OF THE TOBACCO
Fermentation of DFC tobacco is a unique process and no additives/ingredients are used at any step of the fermentation process. Raw tobacco (whole leaf) is dipped in distilled water.
Then the tobacco is put into bulks. Regularly the bulks are mechanically mixed. The fermentation process is completed in 3-4 turnings.
The Fermented tobacco is then ready for threshing and drying step. Once threshed, the filler is ready for wrapping step in neutral cigars.
Whilst for aromatic cigars the filler is treated with natural flavors before the wrapping step.
Since 1818 the Italian cigar has mainly been manufactured in Florence. But in the years following the post-war period the Toscano cigar left the Tuscan capital for good and was produced in the factories of Lucca and Cava de’ Tirreni.
Lucca: until June 2004 the main Lucca factory was on the site of a former convent for Dominican nuns. In this year production was transferred to a more functional and modern building in Mugnano, on the outskirts of Lucca. This factory hosts the cigar rollers department, the only one of its kind in Europe.
Cava de’ Tirreni: tradition has it that tobacco was first grown in Campania at the behest of Joachim Murat during the period of the Kingdom of Naples. The plant had been regarded as extremely precious since antiquity. The catastrophes that beset the Kingdom of Naples never impacted on tobacco production, which since then has been an important part of Cava’s economy. Since 1912, Cava de’ Tirreni has been one of the main production sites of the famous Italian cigar.
Foiano della Chiana reception, evaluation and agricultural development center. A lot of important activities take place here such as the evaluation of the tobacco, agricultural support and the selection of the tobacco used for the wrapper and the filler.
TODAY AND YESTERDAY: THE TOSCANO CIGAR ROLLERS
Over the years many factors have contributed to the success of the Toscano cigar. Of these, the most significant was the fact that behind the production of the cigars was a genuine team of female workers who patiently and methodically ensured the perfection of the product: the cigar rollers.
THE CIGAR ROLLERS OF YESTERYEAR
When hiring the girls the committee asked to see their hands, which were touched, weighed and made to move. The fingers had to be short but not chunky, the palm light and flexible. The candidate was asked to type and their dexterity was assessed. If it wasn’t for those hands we wouldn’t be here now to tell the story of one of the most recognizable Italian products in the world.
Without those hands our relaxing moments in the company of the Toscano cigar would not be the same. We wouldn’t be able to savor its unique aroma with every puff, but above all there would no longer be any trace of the cultural legacy encapsulated in every leaf of Kentucky tobacco.
Indeed, since it was first made the image of the Toscano cigar has been inextricably linked with that of the cigar rollers. A series of stories have emerged around these figures, all of which center on the mystique of this profession, but not only. The cigar rollers were the first women in Italy to gain the same rights as men (albeit with a few exceptions) in the professional sphere.
In the mid-19th century there were only around 20 cigar rollers. After the Unification of Italy this number grew exponentially. At the turn of the 20th century the female workers employed in the tobacco factories across Italy represented the biggest female presence in factories with around 12,000, a figure that had risen to 16,000 by the eve of World War One.
THE CIGAR ROLLERS OF TODAY
The cigar rollers still play a key role in the manufacturing of the cigars. In fact, the finest cigars are still strictly manufactured by hand. Their job has remained totally unchanged for 200 years (even if, fortunately, the working conditions have moved on in the meantime) and is often passed on from mother to daughter.
The cigar rollers are all female, without exception, a choice based on tradition but also other factors. Their greater manual sensitivity and patience are priceless additional factors when it comes to a job like cigar rolling. The great skill of the cigar rollers still lies in their understanding of how much filler to use and their perfect rolling of the cigar: if there is still air in the wrapper or if there is too much filler the cigar won’t draw.
How do today’s cigar rollers create a Toscano cigar?
The cigar rollers serve a long apprenticeship: only after 18 months are they ready to start rolling the cigars. Cigar rolling is a laborious and tiring job and the cigar rollers must be skilled enough to smoothly carry out several different tasks. The rolling process is made up of the following stages, all of which strictly carried out by hand.
LAYING DOWN THE WRAPPER
The cigar roller wets her fingers in a bowl containing rice starch and applies the adhesive to the wooden board. In this way half of a Kentucky leaf, laid out on the dampened board, stays firmly in place. With the point of a knife the cigar roller traces the shape of the cigar wrapper, known in Italian as the ‘scarpetta’ (‘shoe’). During this operation it is essential that the veins of the leaf are parallel with the direction in which the cigar is rolled so as to prevent them from creating resistance and also to ensure the wrapper doesn’t open when the cigar is dried.
WEIGHING AND COMBING
The more experienced a cigar roller is the more precise she is. She picks the pieces or “filaments” of fermented tobacco from the bags, weighs them to check that the quantity is correct, “combs” them and then arranges them so that the density of the cigar is even right the way along and that it draws well.
CLOSING AND CUTTING
Having formed the bunch or ‘pupa’, holding it tight the cigar roller places it on the previously formed wrapper, lifts the pointed end of the bottom of the wrapper and begins to roll the leaf over the filaments. In this way, the cigar “wrapped in a helix shape with 3 wrapper spirals” is tapered at both ends, the diameters of the middle and the ends are correct, and the veins of the leaf run parallel to the length of the cigar. It is essential not to exert too much pressure when closing the cigar as it may end up too thin or too full, which could negatively impact on the way it draws. The ends of the cigar are then placed in a cigar cutter for the final cut. The cigar is ready!
For more history, check out 50 years of Macanudo!