Tobacco is a large part of North Carolina’s history, weaving a strong thread through the economy. This golden crop is featured at the N.C. State Fair at the working tobacco barn in Heritage Circle. Visitors can see tobacco cured the old-fashioned way — in a flue-cured barn fired by wood. Today, most tobacco is cured in bulk barns, fueled by gas.
Like many inventions or discoveries, the traditional process of curing came about by accident. A worker accidentally let the wood burning fire go out in a barn of tobacco and quickly restarted the fire with charcoal. The intense heat of the fire caused the tobacco to cure faster, turning it a bright yellow color, creating “brightleaf” or “flue-cured” tobacco. Smokers liked the taste of the new tobacco and it became very popular, leading to greater production.
The curing process starts today, when the barn starts being filled with tobacco strung or looped onto wooden sticks. Around 10 a.m., fairgoers can try their hand at stringing tobacco, and they can even sign up to compete in a three-person team at the stringing contest to be held at 2 p.m. Once the barn is full, it takes seven days to cure. Staff will keep the fire going, closely monitoring the temperature to ensure an even, thorough cure. Once the tobacco is cured, fair visitors will be allowed to go inside the barn and look at the dried, finished product.
There will also be a mock tobacco auction held in the Exposition Center on Friday, Oct. 25, at 2 p.m.
Come visit the Heritage Circle tobacco barn at the North Carolina State Fair and experience a part of North Carolina history.