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Yesterday noon the Intl. Conference Center in Havana was less packed. A good chunk of the Festival delegates had crowded one of the facility’s large halls to attend the Master Cigar Rolling Class, one of the traditional events that draw more participants in these yearly gatherings.

No wonder there was such a big crowd: Arnaldo Oballe, the current director of the El Laguito cigar factory, was the lecturer, and the Laguito 2 vitola, Corona Especial de Cohiba, the “subject matter.”

Previously in the hall, each and every one of the “students” were given planks, jackknives, aprons and tobacco leaves, the basics for any workshop cigar roller. Young master Oballe, a former cigar roller, took over and started teaching the layout of the leaves to be rolled right on the table, putting the seco, volado and ligero leaves –the heart of the cigar- on the right side. Once they had been rolled together, the binder came next.

The wrapper is the presentation of any habano, he warned as he doled out a few basic tips for the finishing touch of the rolling process: put the nerve side of the leaf inside, making sure the soft surface remains taut and even, a step in which experience is the name of the game. Among the enthusiast “students”, some did better than their peers, while others didn’t even reach a halfway point. All of them, though, received a nice-looking diploma courtesy of Habanos S.A.

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