Renowned briar cutter Domenico “Mimmo” Romeo is also a talented pipemaker
by Stephen A. Ross
Oh, to be Mimmo! Domenico Romeo, known throughout the pipe world as Mimmo, lives a sweet life. He has a beautiful wife and two precious young daughters. He lives in the Italian Riviera town of Arma di Taggia, with a picturesque view of the serenely blue Mediterranean Sea visible from the front of his house and an equally beautiful Alpine vista spreading across the landscape from his home’s back door. He is charming, passionate, energetic and possessed of a contagious enthusiasm for life, eagerly using his voice and his hands to express a point in conversation. His friends are many, easily attracted to the good nature and charitable disposition of the Italian, who, at 47 years of age, looks much younger. We should all be so lucky.
There’s a lot to envy about Mimmo, but no one holds that against him because he is so damned likable. He laughs and smiles at the slightest provocation, and there doesn’t seem to be a mote of pretention about him. He has a sharp intellect, but he also possesses an infectious sense of humor that doesn’t allow him to take himself too seriously.
And he is talented. The head of Romeo Briar, Mimmo has become one of the pipe world’s most respected and beloved figures. He’s most often cited by the world’s top artisan pipemakers as being their sole briar supplier because of his seemingly innate ability to cut it the way that pipemakers want it to be cut. Pipemakers say that Mimmo’s briar gives them better chances to create their best work. Rather than just cutting into wood to maximize the number of blocks he can sell, Mimmo adopts an artistic approach and studies the briar before cutting into it to maximize the quality of the ebauchons that it will produce.
“There’s not one rule to cutting briar,” says Mimmo, who has been a briar cutter for nearly 30 years and thoroughly enjoys his work. “You open it up and you change your ideas to adapt to what the wood gives you. That’s why it’s very difficult to cut the briar. You’re likely to have problems and your approach is likely to change when cutting briar. Here we have natural pieces and you just have the outside of the wood to look at when you start. You have the size and the shape and you have the balance of the burl, but then you cut into it and it can all change. When I cut briar, I am the first to grade it, and my most important goal is to help pipemakers do their best work. It’s like being a pipemaker, except with pipemaking, more than half the job is already done.”
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