I've heard good things about CAO cigars and decided to try out a few... First up is the CAO MX2 Toro, 6", 54 ring. A slightly oily Connecticut wrapper, Brazilian binder, and the filler comes from Nicaragua, Peru, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. This Nashville-based company is named after its founder, Cano A. Ozgener. (The current issue of Cigar Aficionado includes an interesting interview with Cano's son Tim, the president of CAO.)
Rich and toasty with flavors of espresso and chocolate. A solidly built cigar that is delicious down to the last inch or so. I kept it at a steady 70% humidity in the humidor for about a week before smoking.
It's pictured atop my copy of Transcendence & Divine Passion: The Queen Mother of the West in Medieval China by Suzanne E. Cahill. It's an in-depth study of Hsi Wang Mu (西王母), the queen of the female immortals in Taoism. If you're looking for a casual afternoon read I would not recommend this book.
In the heartier end of their product line some are named after a specific country. The CAO Italia Piazza (6" x 60 ring gauge) has a Honduran wrapper and binder, with filler from Nicaragua, Peru, and Italy (near Naples to be precise). Italy is not a major producer of cigar tobacco, but the company decided to include it here. Aside from the gorgeous graphic design of the band, the cigar is spicy with deep coffee and leather flavors. I got a little black pepper and cinnamon as well.
The cigar is resting on Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which is equal parts historical fiction, adventure novel, and math textbook. While Stephenson can be a little hard to get through at times (I could not finish the 2,500 page Baroque Cycle), his novels generally reward patience. I'm not sure how well Cryptonomicon will hold up over time, but in terms of learning about the science (and history) of cryptography in the context of a fun story this book can't be beat.