Ernst Schneider, partner in the company introducing Zino Mouton-Cadet cigars to the American market, has some strong views on cigar skills:
* Selection: First, a heavy meal calls for a large cigar, an ordinary lunch for medium size, and breakfast for a small one. Additionally, darker cigars are richer in taste than "claros" (light colored) and larger cigars permit a wider blend of tobaccos. "Making a good, full-flavored small cigar is one of the hardest things," Schneider says. Smell the cigar to be sure it hasn't deteriorated (all right, let's say it, mildewed) and roll it gently between your thumb and fingers near your ear to determine whether it's soft (that's good) or crackles (that's very bad). Preparation: A cigar is manufactured with a small "cap" on one end that should be cut off with a sharp instrument (Zino Davidoff happens to market one, Schneider said. "It's like a surgical instrument, and it cuts all sizes of cigars"). Never bite it off, cut with something that makes a V-shaped notch or poke a hole with a match. When the cap is improperly cut, juices can collect "at your mouth and spoil the whole aroma." Leave the ring on. Taking it off can tear the wrapper tobacco, spoiling the cigar. Besides, you're supposed to smoke the cigar only as far as the ring and leaving it on is easier than trying to remember where it was. (Davidoff and my grandfather disagree--Davidoff smokes his almost all the way down; my grandfather used to smoke his cigar stubs in a pipe, but people tell me that that is disgusting.)
* Lighting: Don't put it in your mouth yet. Use a wooden match, says Schneider ("Not a lighter, not a paper match--that smells very bad," although the entrepreneurial Davidoff is developing a cigar lighter that will be okay), and hold the cigar's tip above the flame. "This is also a pleasure," Schneider says. Rotate the cigar over the flame until the whole diameter of the end is burning (not just four or five pockets of fire). This, he says, avoids "shocking" the tobacco.
* Smoking: Now that it is properly lit, lean back and enjoy it (not clenching it between your teeth, not chewing it) for an hour and a half or so, with all distracting cares far from your mind. "It's wonderful," Schneider says. "A good cigar is the coronation of a meal."