Slicing and Dicing Plug Tobaccos
I was talking with Greg Pease recently about his JackKnife Plug before it was yet released. My initial question was how he preferred to process the tobacco. For some, getting a plug of pipe tobacco can seem daunting, if not downright terrifying. There is nothing to be afraid of, but different techniques will yield different results. I first tried JackKnife in a shag cut, which is how Greg really likes it. You can read about JackKnife and how to process it on Greg's “The Briar & Leaf Chronicles".
For our own experiments I headed down to the store and removed a small piece of Samuel Gawith Cob Plug from its holding jar and attempted to attack it with different techniques - and a big knife. For starters, the knife should be sharp (this is moist leaf, after all). The plug should always be kept in a sealed jar for extended periods of time because trying to cut dried tobacco ends up being like trying to shave wood. The tobacco we used was perfectly moist and my knife was an inexpensive, yet effective accessory from a sushi kit I purchased at the grocery store.
The knife was sharpened, the wooden cutting board was on a very sturdy table, and the first cut was made by placing the cutting edge about 1/16" from a side of the square plug and carefully slicing back and forth before applying downward pressure. Off came a perfect flake with just the slightest curl. After this, I made the exact same cut but it was about 1/8" wide. The thicker flake proved very easy to cut into match stick sized pieces, that were later cut into cubes. Lastly, gripping the plug and setting the edge of the blade about 1/32” from the edge and pushing down in a slicing motion - like slicing paper thin strips of a tomato - left behind little chocolate curls that rubbed out to a shag with very little effort.
The shag burns very easily all the way down, while the cube cut burns slower with a noticeably deeper taste. The flake can be folded as is, or rubbed to a perfect ribbon.
The rules for best results: sharp knife with no teeth, cutting board on a solid surface that doesn't wobble and very careful slicing. I like to only slice off as much as I need for a bowl or two because the tobacco stays moist in a solid plug and I seem to derive great satisfaction from making the cuts. To me it can be as much fun as preparing a delicious dinner. Have fun!