Even until relatively recently, it was unheard of to suggest putting a Connecticut or Cameroon (or candela) wrapper on anything north of mild. Exactly why it was heresy is unclear. Maybe the manufacturers were scared of offering a product that would defy expectations. After all, cigar buyers were fiercely loyal back in those days. A guy who smoked Ashton 8-9-8s would only smoke Ashton 8-9-8s. That was his cigar. If by some miracle you got him to try a different brand, you wanted him to like what he was getting. And that meant giving him something not radically different than what he was used to.
Enter a guy named Manny Ferraro. Manny was an ex-Philadelphia cop who loved cigars, so when he retired from the force, he went to work for Holt's cigar store. By that time, Holt's was already working with Arturo Fuente to produce their Ashton brand, which was a huge hit. By the mid-2000s they had a pretty good portfolio of brands including La Aroma de Cuba, which was being produced by the Flor de Copan factory in Honduras.
The folks at Peterson want to expand beyond pipes and pipe tobacco -- and why not? So they approach Ashton for help producing and distribute a Peterson cigar. (They tried this once before, in the 1990s, but the cigar was awful.) Manny Ferraro by this point was a high-ranking member of the sales team and had a very good palate. Extremely good, actually. He also had a big personality and a tendency toward over-exuberance, in an endearing way.
Which brings me to the codfish cannoli. I used to attend a charity dinner every year that Manny hosted and created the menu for. The guy really sweated to make each course and intermezzo perfect -- not only as standalone dishes, but also in harmony with the cigar and drink they were being paired with. One year, he had the chefs make a cannoli shell stuffed with a weird codfish paste that ended up tasting like a an earwax eclair. Awful. I know for a fact the chefs tried to dissuade him. He took some good-natured abuse about it but only because his taste was otherwise impeccable.
It didn't surprise me to find out later that Manny was behind the blend for the Peterson cigar. It was different than almost any other Cameroon wrapped cigar I can think of at the time, except Fuente Don Carlos, which pioneered fuller-bodied Cameroon cigars. It was also a little pricey, which may have been its downfall. I don't know. What I do know is that the Petersons of the time were not mild and nutty like you'd expect. Instead, they were bold and complex, but still smooth and classy. I stocked up before they were discontinued in late 2006/early 2007.
The cigars I have left are from sometime in 2006 and look beautiful, still oily and toothy in a way that was uncommon for Cameroon then. Produced alongside Aston's La Aroma de Cuba at Flor de Copan, construction is very good but lacks the fine detailing one sees from La Aromas that have since been moved to Pepin Garcia's factory in Nicaragua. (As a side note, it would have been interesting to see what might have happened to the Peterson blend if Manny had collaborated with Pepin.)
This vintage La Aroma has actually lost some complexity over the years but gained finesse. Whereas the young cigars would greet you with a blast of wood and spice, the aged smokes are slow starters, like a Fuente Don Carlos. The smoke is mouth-filling and round, with an almost cookie dough-like richness. There is a backbone of wheaty toast with hints of wood and a teeny bit of leather. As the cigar progresses, there is a coffee creaminess that lingers on the finish. It's medium-bodied but with tons and tons of flavor that goes on and on.
The cellophane wrappers these came from were very yellow, yet the Cameroon wrappers retained their oils and tooth. The draw on these cigars seemed a bit loose but the cigars still smoked slowly, ending at well over an hour. The ash was just about perfect and so was the burn line, as you can see in the photos.
Had I known how wonderful these cigars would be with six years of age, I would have gladly bought as many boxes as I could. These were good then, and even more delicious now. Easygoing, easy to smoke, full of flavor. These are at their peak right now.
Part of a new wave of fuller-bodied cigars sporting a Cameroon wrapper. Blended by the late and much missed Manny Ferraro. Round, delicious.