Perique is a type of tobacco from Saint James Parish, Louisiana known for its strong, powerful, and fruity aroma. When the Acadians made their way into this region in 1776, the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes were cultivating a variety of tobacco with a distinctive flavor. A farmer named Pierre Chenet is credited with first turning this local tobacco into what is now known as Perique in 1824 through the technique of pressure-fermentation.
The tobacco plants are manually kept suckerless and pruned to exactly 12 leaves through their early growth. In late June, when the leaves are a dark, rich green and the plants are 24-30 inches (600 to 750 mm) tall, the whole plant is harvested in the late evening and hung to dry in a sideless curing barn. Once the leaves have partially dried but are still supple (usually less than 2 weeks in the barn), any remaining dirt is removed and the leaves are moistened with water and stemmed by hand. The leaves are then rolled into “torquettes” of approximately 1 pound (450 g) and packed into hickory Whiskey barrels. The tobacco is kept under pressure using oak blocks and massive Screw jacks, forcing nearly all the air out of the still-moist leaves. Approximately once a month the pressure is released, and each of the torquettes is worked by hand to permit a little air back into the tobacco. After a year of this treatment, the perique is ready for consumption, although it may be kept fresh under pressure for many years. Extended exposure to air degrades the particular character of perique. The finished tobacco is dark brown, nearly black, very moist with a fruity, slightly vinegary aroma.
Often considered the Truffle of pipe tobaccoes, perique is used as a component of various blended pipe tobaccos, as many people consider it too strong to be smoked pure. At one time, the fresh and moist perique was also chewed, but none is now sold for this purpose. For reasons unknown, the particular flavor and character of Louisiana perique can only be acquired on a small triangle of Saint James Parish, less than 3 by 10 miles (5 by 16 km). Although at its peak Saint James Parish was producing around 20 tons of perique a year, output is now merely a few barrelsful. Most of the perique used in pipe tobacco is not perique at all, but green river burley that is processed in the same manner as perique. Although the process produces a strong, spicy tobacco, it is a far different product from the genuine perique grown on Percy Martin’s and the Poche family’s farms.
Pierre Chenet’s granddaughter, Coralie Decareau, married Celestin Poche in February, 1829, and the Poche family has been involved in the cultivation and processing of Perique tobacco through current times. There are currently only three farmers who grow tobacco commercially in Saint James Parish.
While traditionally a pipe tobacco (and still available from some specialist tobacconists), perique can also be found in Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company’s perique cigarettes under the Natural American Spirit brand in an approximately 1 part to 5 blend with lighter tobaccos. These cigarettes are marketed in a black box. Loose tobacco for rolling is sold by the same company in black pouches or tins. Perique is also featured in the Mysterioso line of cigars made by the Connecticut Valley Tobacconist. Mysterioso is available with a genuine Connecticut Shade wrapper, genuine aged Louisiana Perique, and Honduran tobacco. It is the only cigar in the world that uses a perique blend.
Distiller Ted Breaux has been distilling Perique Liqueur de Tabac, a liqueur from Perique tobacco since 2006. The liqueur is distilled in the Combier distillery in Saumur, France.