Cuba Part V: Benito and Yovanny

For obvious reasons, Mike and I have always affectionately referred to ourselves as “team pasty.” This moniker was confirmed when Benito the tobacco farmer asked Mike if he had ever worked a day in his life because his skin looked like a baby’s.

Welcome to Viñales, a UNESCO world heritage site that’s home to idyllic views, traditional tobacco farms, and some pretty big schmoozers.

 Benito was a caricature of what you’d imagine a tobacco farmer to be – mustached, tanned skin, shirt unbuttoned, big belly and even bigger personality. Between sips of his rum-laced “white coffee,” puffs of cigars and jokes about his Viagra plants, we managed to learn that Benito Camejo is a 4th generation tobacco farmer who sells to Cuban cigar companies like Cohiba and Montecristo. Everyone in the village comes out to help him during harvest, even the town’s doctor.

 When we arrived at the farm, Benito’s employee Yovanny took us straight to the barn. While it wasn’t planting or harvesting season, he gave us a little demo of how cigars are made. Tobacco seeds are some of the tiniest I’ve ever seen – I held hundreds if not thousands of them in the palm of my hand. After the plants are grown and harvested, the leaves are cured and then fermented in the barn.

 It takes at least three but up to five kinds of tobacco leaves to make a good cigar. Yovanny cut the leaves from the stems –  he said that 75% of the nicotine is in the stem. He then proceeded to roll the cigar, a skill that was passed down to him from his parents. After the demo, Yovanny also showed us all the other lovely things on the farm – guava, cocoa, coffee, banana, mango and avocado trees; ducks, chicks and roosters. Oh, and pet tree rats.

 We ate lunch at Finca Agroecologica, an organic farm overlooking Viñales valley where they served us plate after plate of fresh, home-style food: pork, chicken, beef, tuna, fresh guacamole, fried plantains, root veggies, beans, rice and more. We washed it down with an “anti-stress cocktail,” that killer Cuban coffee and super creamy flan.

 Up next, the final installment of the Cuba trip: Richy and our cooking lesson at Ajiaco Café.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

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