What a honor to meet them together. Both Hombres Habanos 2016: Manuel Tuero Paz in the production category and Valerio Cornale in the communication category.
Stefano Minoia, Sales Director at Habanos’ importer and distributor in Italy, introduced me to Manuel Tuero Paz. His appellative in that moment was “maestro” and, by the second day I spoke with him, he became Manolo and so loquacious that I missed part of Saturday’s tasting seminar. Needless to say he conveys so much emotion and passion and this is why I want to write about him.
Manuel is one of few active people with the highest level of preparation and technical knowledge about Cuban tobacco and cigars, meaning from tobacco growing to the rolled product. It’s not him claiming this about himself, rather it’s Habanos SA giving him this recognition. In fact, at the Festival del Habano 2016, Manuel was honored with the Hombre Habano award in the production category. The Hombre Habano award is one of the most prestigious recognitions in the universe of fine cigars.
He started his career in 1959 at a despalillo (stemming center) in Pinar del Rio. Despite his 76 years, he actively inspects tobacco and factories and actively participates in the selection of the cigars presented at the Festival del Habano.
Manolo traveled for work, but says he never attended a cigar event such as the one in Matelica. He loves to talk about the quality control of finished products. The cata (tasting, but in this case it rather means testing) is very severe. Testers have no visual, hearing or other type of contact with the other testers, so they may not influence one another.
Draw is one of the major parameters used, followed by combustion. The fortaleza, the nicotine strength, is also extremely important. People may say the “Cuban school” tests are very simple: “does it draw or not, is strength suave or forte, …” But as Manolo talked about more details, I recognized some of the rigorous tests used to screen professional testers in the sensory analysis methodology.
Alex Prestigiacomi, Luca Pezzini, Fabio Ballestracci – whom I want to thank for the awesome simultaneous translations and congratulate for the books Hablamos El Mismo Idioma and CarambaCaribe – were with me during part of the conversations exchanged with Manuel Tuero Paz and with Valerio Cornale.
Valerio is one of the most world known collectors for memorabilia related to the Cuban cigar. He was also awarded the Hombre Habano 2016 recognition, in the communication category, at the XVIII Festival del Habano.
Valerio has a great knowledge of the market, he owns La Casa del Habano in the Cayman Islands and educates his customers on how to smoke and enjoy a fine cigar. Among other topics, he liked to talk about the different categories of cigar smokers, a few of which are:
- “those who come in the shop with a copy of Cigar Aficionado and buy without knowing what they buy
- those who like to show off: they don’t smoke frequently and, when they do, they smoke with friends
- those who find relief from their own frustrations and focus on the cigar defects in order to look like experts
We have to smoke the cigar for what it is, without giving it too many responsibilities. The novice will always evolve by paying less attention to the cutter, the lighter, the humidity, and eventually by starting to focus on the cigar itself.”