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06-Jul-2009
Professional cigar roller is a hot commodity

El Maestro sits hunched at his wooden desk, the soft brown aromatic leaves spread before him. If not for the busy thoroughfare steps away leading to the swanky shops of Bal Harbour, it would be easy to imagine him sitting in a steamy factory in his native Cuba.

In fact, Oswaldo Marrero, now called El Maestro by his followers, learned to roll cigars on the factory floor of Cohiba. Starting at 17, Marrero trained under one of the cigar-maker's maestros and worked for the firm for a decade before fleeing to Germany.

In 2005, he arrived in the United States, never imagining that the trade could provide him employment. Then he wandered into Mike's Cigars in Bay Harbor Islands, which first opened in Miami Beach in 1950 and is considered an "institution" by Cigar Aficionado.

Oscar Boruchin, who owns the store with his son-in-law, Oded Ben-Arie, initially hired Marrero to work a party.

He was so impressed, he said, he decided to keep him. Today, Marrero creates his own line of Maestro cigars for the store.

Rolling a cigar may look easy, but it in fact requires a high level of craftsmanship to provoke a customer into paying up to $25 for a single Maestro.

The leaves, already cured, arrive in cardboard boxes. The blends and binders are packed randomly in cloth sacks while the wrappers are neatly tied at the stems. Marrero begins with a wrapper -- a leaf chosen as much for its beauty as scent. Inside the wrapper he inserts the binder and bunches together the blend. The more leaves packed into a cigar, the slower it burns.

Cigar makers fiendishly guard their blends as trade secrets. Although he can blend any flavor a customer might request, Marrero creates three different blends, keeping the taste the same for returning customers. The whole process takes about three minutes.

Cigar leaves need to cure at least three months and can be aged as much as six years, Boruchin explained. The final product can be aged even longer. "This is a new cigar," he says, holding up one of the deep brown cigars freshly rolled by Marrero. "It's good, but it will be much better in 30 days."

Marrero is one of the few cigar rollers employed full-time by a store, Boruchin said. Most work in factories or work special events as a novelty. Boruchin decided to keep Marrero on staff fulltime because he immediately liked him, and realized that his finely rolled cigars would draw fans. "He's the greatest," Boruchin said. "We already have developed a following."


Source: MiamiHerald.com