Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Words you should know: Criollo*

You've heard the word in passing as folks describe cigars, tobacco plants, and/or tobacco seeds, depending on who's doing the talking. By the way, we're ignoring the people who say it just to sound smart, especially since they usually mispronounce it** and/or don't know what the word actually means.

Keep reading and you'll know all the things. (Or at least mostly all the things. Or at least some things. Or something.)

The word translates to "native seed," so when you say "criollo," some folks may think you mean actual Cuban leaf grown on Cuban soil--the actual plant.

However--there's always a however, isn't there?--Criollo also means a person of Spanish descent born in Spanish America. Know what else can mean the same thing? Creole, as in "I went to New Orleans for the International Premium Cigars and Pipe Retailers (IPCPR) convention and never met anyone of Creole descent. But I sure did have some Creole food while smoking a criollo cigar." (There's also a criollo horse, but that's a blog post for another time. Probably around never o'clock.)


We're here for tobacco, though. So think of the criollo seeds as those native to Cuba, but (literally) uprooted and planted in another region, most notably NicaraguaHonduras, and San Andres in southern Mexico.

Obviously, if you live on planet Earth, and for the sake of argument, we'll make that assumption, you know the US and Cuba have been in a tiff for quite a long time, so you can't just call Fidel and ask him to send some criollo seeds. However! When Cuban tobacco growers beat feet out of the country for points southwest (Central America), as well as north to Miami, F-L-A*** and south to the Dominican Republic (among other non-Cuban havens), with them went their livelihood and way of life: tobacco seeds.

Those original criollo seeds have changed over the years,**** especially through hybridization to eliminate blue mold, a disease known to destroy plants and crops.

Once, criollo lived only as a sun-grown plant and, as a result, spent the rest of its days within the cigar, as filler. (Poor criollo.)

Yes, grown in the actual shade. [source]
Now, however, thanks to the innovation and smarty-pantsness of tobacco growers, a shade-grown criollo emerged around the turn of the century (20th to 21st), proudly becoming a perfect first impression of the cigar--the wrapper.

We're telling you this because we care about you: Please don't say "This tastes like criollo." No. Remember that tobacco's taste/flavor ultimately comes from the soil and regional conditions, not the seeds themselves. For example, you'll find a Jalapa, Nicaragua-grown criollo much sweeter than that from the Esteli, Nicaragua region. (You're welcome to use that fact at your next cocktail party.)

Oh! Maybe next time we see you, we'll tell you about the criollo chocolate. Yep! It's a thing!

*To paraphrase Buddy the Elf: "That's a fun word to say."

**Super awesome when Valentino says it; ask him next time you see it. In the meantime, repeat after me: cree-oh-yo.

***You're welcome for the earworm!

****Haven't we all?

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