Fun Facts for Perique Freaks

Perique is an often discussed famous condiment leaf that goes particularly well with Virginia tobacco, but adds a unique support taste to many other tobacco types as well. There are many famous blends that use Perique as part of the product. One of the most highly prized “VaPer” blends ever produced was McClelland’s Beacon, and one of the most famous ever English blends that used Perique was Dunhill’s Nightcap. You seldom, if ever, find an Oriental only tobacco with Perique as a part of the components because it will overwhelm the delicate spicy flavors of most Oriental leaf. The photo to the left is of the type of Burley being grown that undergoes a tremendous amount of processing to turn into what we call Perique.

As most of you already know, due to its unique soil, all of the world’s true Perique is grown in St. James Parish, Louisiana. Only 300 acres that runs along the Acadian Coast is used to grow this precious leaf, which is actually a specially treated type of Burley. After a brief period of air curing, the Burley leaf is put in Oak barrels under heavy pressure and then allowed to ferment. Every once in a while, the tobacco is removed from the barrels to air out, then repacked. This packing and repacking continues for close to a full year before it is fully processed. Just for fun, I loaded up my pipe and smoked a little Perique by itself once. I never got to the fun part!

My webmaster, Andrew, got curious about Perique recently and found a paper published in the Electronic Journal of Environmental, Agricultural and Food Chemistry that was written back in 2013.  Here are some interesting tidbits that Andrew found in perusing that article:

  • Perique tobacco is a minor tobacco type produced by subjecting the leaf of a Red Burley to a partial air-curing followed by a high pressure anaerobic fermentation process.
  • Genuine Perique grows successfully only in a small, wedge shaped piece of land west of New Orleans called St. James’ Parish. Within St. James’ Parish, the best, and only current location the Red Burley for Perique is grown is a relatively tiny place called Grande Point Ridge, near Paulina, LA.
  • 900 Growers have tried sowing the Red Burley seed in places all over the world with similar climate and soil conditions without any significant success other than Kentucky Green River Burley, which can be grown in larger crops, and is processed to make a “faux” (fake) Perique.
  • In 2002, the world’s production of pure Perique -11,460 pounds – was stored in 27 oak whiskey barrels at the last producers farm – the famous Percy Martin farm in St. James Parish..
  • It is estimated that an additional amount of about 50,000 pounds of the Acadian Green River “faux” Perique is produced annually.

And here is more information about Perique tobacco that I found on Wikipedia:

  • The tobacco plants are manually kept sucker less and pruned to exactly 12 leaves through their early growth. In late June, when the leaves are a dark, rich green and the plants are 24–30 inches (60–75 cm) tall, the whole plant is harvested in the late evening and hung to dry in a sideless curing barn. Once the leaves have partially dried but are still supple (usually less than 2 weeks in the barn), any remaining dirt is removed and the leaves are moistened with water and stemmed by hand. The leaves are then rolled into “torquettes” of approximately 1 pound (450 g) and packed into hickory whiskey barrels. The tobacco is kept under pressure using oak blocks and massive screw jacks, forcing nearly all the air out of the still-moist leaves. Approximately once a month the pressure is released, and each of the torquettes is worked by hand to permit a little air back into the tobacco. After a year of this treatment, the perique is ready for consumption, although it may be kept fresh under pressure for many years. Extended exposure to air degrades the particular character of perique. The finished tobacco is dark brown – nearly black – very moist with a fruity, slightly vinegary aroma. The fruity aroma is the result of hundreds of volatile compounds created by anaerobic fermentation of the tobacco. Many of these are responsible for the flavors of fruits and are often found in wine.
  • Often considered the truffle of pipe tobaccos by connoisseurs, perique is used as a component of various blended pipe tobaccos, as many people consider it too strong to be smoked pure. At one time, the fresh and moist perique was also chewed, but none is now sold for this purpose.

The next time you Perique Freaks puff on one of your favorite blends with that condiment as a part of the overall presentation, you may be more appreciative of all the dedicated growers, processors and blenders who were involved in making one of your favorite Perique laden tobacco blends!

Happy Puffing,

Steve & Andrew