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By Don Shilling

Monday, September 2, 2002

Making a good cigar requires just the right touch.
AUSTINTOWN -- Bill Wilson has smoked a lot of cigars but had never seen one rolled before.
"I thought it would be more difficult, more precise than it was," said Wilson, of Murraysville, Pa.
Rolling a cigar that someone can smoke really isn't that hard, said Brad Christoloveon, as he tucked some shredded leaves, called filler, into a larger leaf called a binder.
But making one that looks great and tastes just right is a different story.
"Dealing with the little problems that come up, that's what takes a lifetime," he said Wednesday during a demonstration for Wilson and other customers at Plaza Book & amp; Smoke in the Austintown Plaza.
Sometimes it's dealing with a little piece of the tobacco leaf that comes loose after you are done wrapping.
Or it could be feeling a lump of tobacco in the cigar or an area that's too thin, both of which will affect how a cigar burns.
Christoloveon said a cigar maker has to have the experience to spot such problems and then the ability to make it right without ruining the cigar.
"As much as I'd like to tell you it's a science, it's really a feel," said Christoloveon, 29, of Dearborn, Mich.
Displaying his technique
He displayed his touch for Plaza Book customers who came and went throughout the day. He was to be at Plaza Book in the Boardman Plaza from noon to 6 p.m. today.
"It's interesting if you're a smoker," said Geno Bellatto, Plaza Book owner. "A lot of guys don't have any idea what goes into making a cigar."
C.A.O. International, a cigar maker based in Nashville, Tenn., hires Christoloveon to put on demonstrations across the country. Christoloveon, who gives detailed descriptions of everything he does, said he likes small demonstrations like the one at Plaza Book where he can take the time to talk to the people who are watching.
The tobacco, which has been aged from one to five years, is first stored overnight near something moist so it is pliable.
The central rib that runs down the leaf is removed, and then the filler leaves are selected and arranged. These are then rolled with a binder and then placed in a mold. The cigar is rotated after one hour and then removed from the mold after two more hours.
Then it is rolled in a wrapper, which is the most expensive tobacco leaf.
C.A.O. has its cigars made in Nicaragua, where factories churn out large numbers of hand-rolled cigars.
Each person has a specific job, such as sorting leaves or cutting them.
Every detail
In his demonstrations, Christoloveon performs each step himself. He's even grown tobacco at his home so he could understand the whole process.
His passion for cigars led him to learn the craft from a master cigar maker from Puerto Rico who now lives in Atlanta.
Christoloveon said his goal is to develop his own line of cigars so he would be in charge of blending, which is mixing different tobacco leaves to achieve certain tastes.
The challenge would be making a cigar with good flavor without being expensive, he said. It's easy to make a great cigar using only the finest leaves, he said.
Bellatto said cigar sales remain strong at his stores, which include the Plaza Book stores and Girard Book & amp; News, even though there has been some drop-off since the cigar boom of the mid-1990s.
He said cigars continue to be much more popular than they were when his father, Louis Bellatto, got into the business in 1972 by buying Girard Book & amp; News.