What Are the Characteristics of Perique?
Perique is a spice tobacco, usually used in Virginia blends. It has a dark, oily appearance, and a taste of pepper and figs. Its flavor is very strong, so it isn’t usually found in high percentages in a blend. It can be smoked straight, but isn’t intended to be.
Its role as a complement to VA’s is not just because of its flavor. Being acidic, it tends to alleviate alkaline tongue bite, which is so often a problem with Virginia tobacco.
What is the History of Perique?
The process by which this tobacco is produced pre-dates Columbus. The Choctaw Indians of (what would later be) Louisiana would make it by pressing it into hollow logs with a long pole, and securing it with weights.
After the Acadians (Cajuns) settled the area in the mid-1700’s, the Choctaws taught this process to a French colonist by the name of Pierre Chenet. The finished product was referred to as Perique, a Cajun variation on the word “prick”. This referred either to the phallic shape of the carottes (the tight bundles of market-ready Perique), or Chenet himself, as it was his nickname!
Where is Perique Grown?
The only place in the world Perique can be grown is in a small section of Louisiana called St. James Parish. Inside St. James Parish, the best location for growing (and the only place it’s grown now) is a very small area called Grande Pointe Ridge, which can be found in the town of Paulina. This is due to both the climate, and the unusual soil of the area, which is referred to as “Magnolia” soil. Nourished by the swamps that surround Grande Pointe, Magnolia is a dark and highly fertile alluvial soil.
The actual strain of tobacco can vary, although tobacco that isn’t native to the soils of Louisiana doesn’t yield a good product. Supposedly the most common strain used with Perique is something called “red burley”.
St. James Perique is extremely rare, so the tobacco is produced elsewhere to meet demands, though without the same results. Kentucky Green River Burley is most commonly used to make Perique. This particular version is the Perique that most pipe smokers are familiar with.
How Is Perique Made?
At harvest time, the wilted leaves of the tobacco are hung up to dry for two weeks, stripped of hard veins, and packed into bundles (called torquettes). These torquettes are put into barrels under extreme pressure, and allowed to cure in their own juices (which collect as run-off at the top of the barrels). Over the course of many months, these bundles are periodically “turned”, and then placed again under pressure in the barrels. Without any air to interact with the tobacco, Perique ferments anaerobically, producing the distinctive taste.
Is Perique Endangered?
There is only one farm left that produces this leaf full-time: Percy Martin Farms in Grande Pointe Ridge, Louisiana. After two bad crop years in the late 1990’s, there was a distinct possibility that Percy Martin would stop producing it also. But a partnership was formed in 1999 between Martin and New Orleans company Nichols and Brown, bringing badly needed stability to this tiny market.
With interest from cigarette manufacturers, as well as from pipe tobacco companies, it’s possible that other farmers in Grande Pointe Ridge will begin growing Perique, though for the moment its future is uncertain. As a low-return, labor-intensive product, it doesn’t appeal to most farmers.
What Are Some Popular Perique Blends?
- Escudo Navy Deluxe, A&C Petersen
- Black Parrot, Ashton
- No. 2 Virginia Mixture, Astley’s
- Three Nuns, Bell’s
- Kingfisher, Butera
- Elizabethan Mixture, Dunhill
- Dorchester, Esoterica Tobacciana
- Dunbar, Esoterica Tobacciana
- Haddo’s Delight, G.L. Pease
- Roll Cake, Mac Baren
- Bulk No. 2015 Virginia Flake, McClelland
- St. James Woods, McClelland
- 633, Solani