Perique is a condimental tobacco incorporated into blends to amplify their more nuanced, subtle characteristics. Traditionally it was used sparingly, with anything between 2-5% considered ample; however interest in the tobacco has grown immensely, with contemporary blends having been seen to include more than 25% perique. Let us take a closer look at what makes this tobacco so unique, both historically as well as with regard to its role within some of our favourite tobaccos.

Tobaccos destined to become perique are planted in greenhouses during the winter before being transplanted in spring. Come summer, they are stalk cut, harvested and air cured, resulting in a tobacco which closely resembles Burley. 

It is here that the unique process through which perique tobacco is defined may be observed. The leaves are moistened and placed into ex bourbon, charred oak barrels which, having served the purpose of their past lives, are laden with residual yeast cultures and microbial life which greatly enhance the fermentation process. The leaves are meticulously organised so as to prevent the formation of air pockets, following which a wooden block is positioned on top of the barrel. Through the use of a screw jack, the barrel is placed under 25 to 30 tonnes of pressure for 90 days, after which the tobacco is removed, unfurled, and exposed to oxygen for up to 24 hours. This process, known as ‘turning,’ is repeated three times, and serves to aerate the tobacco, force out the natural ammonia, reintroduce natural yeast and catalyse anaerobic fermentation. 

Perique is commonly used in conjunction with Virginia tobaccos; the latter possess a natural, fruity sweetness which the perique enhances, whilst adding a signature spice. When combined with other tobaccos, such as latakia or Oriental varietals, the perique amplifies the nutty, savoury and sour qualities. On its own, perique demonstrates why it is such a complex and nuanced tobacco, exhibiting sweet cherry and chocolate flavours, undercut by deep, earthy, savoury notes such as mushroom and a vinegary tang. 

The unique nature of perique is partly due to the fact that it is only processed in one part of the world: St James Parish in Louisiana. As such, it is of immense cultural, historical and familial significance to the people of St James Parish. One thing to note is that perique exists in two varieties. St James perique refers to that which is grown in St James, whereas Acadian perique is a combination of St James grown tobacco and other similar tobaccos grown elsewhere; this is the most common form. Regardless, all perique is processed in St James Parish. 

Understanding the level of knowledge, craftsmanship and labour that is necessary to produces the tobaccos that we love, in my opinion, greatly enhances our appreciation of them. These processes could not be further from mechanical, but rather, are steeped in tradition and have been passed down generationally. I cannot help but think about this every time I pack a bowl; it certainly is time filled beautifully. 

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