The small village of Steinach in the canton of St. Gallen is home to the only independent cigarette factory in Switzerland. Here, a group of adventurous souls has gathered around Heimat founder Roger Koch since the company’s creation in spring 2016. We work together to produce natural Swiss cigarettes – cigarettes from here. And our aim is to do so with a healthy dose of character, experimentation and fun.
It was all Grandfather’s fault
The crazy idea of opening his own cigarette factory can be traced all the way back to Roger Koch’s childhood. Or to put it another way, his grandfather Ernst Gsell sowed the seed. Grandfather and grandson were very close. When, in 1987, the pair drove out to the Hudelmoos nature reserve in Zihlschlacht, Eastern Switzerland, what followed was a life-changing experience for young Roger – Ernst Gsell allowed him to smoke his very first cigarette. His grandfather deemed him to be old enough at 12, and told him about the fascinating history of tobacco cultivation in Switzerland. It was here that the idea for a Swiss cigarette was born. Together with brothers, friends and cousins, Roger then began to produce his own “cigarettes”: paper tubes filled with chestnut and oak leaves and glued together with everyday adhesive strips. Not the most enjoyable cigarettes, but the idea of producing a Swiss tobacco product remained.
Ernst Gsell was born in 1914 and grew up on a farm in Roggwil. A cheesemaker by trade, he later bought a pig farm that was to secure him a good living. He died on 26 July 1990, leaving behind 14 grandchildren – and the idea for a Swiss cigarette, which Roger Koch has now made a reality almost 30 years later. Today, the company name, Koch & Gsell, is derived from the family names of the grandson and grandfather.
Test, smoke, test, smoke ...
Following these rudimentary cigarette experiments as a teenager, the project was put on hold for many years. In 2009, however, the idea was revived when Roger Koch planted tobacco in his garden and was fascinated by cultivating, processing and smoking his own tobacco. The fire had been reignited. With the help of information gleaned from books old and new, he started out in the world of tobacco cultivation, growing Burley, Virginia, Geudertheimer and various oriental tobaccos.
Roger Koch spent four years experimenting with the recipe for the Heimat cigarette, producing more than 5,000 of his own cigarettes with a hand-operated cigarette-filling machine. At a number of blind tastings, Roger Koch was able to refute the common assumption that Swiss tobacco is only good enough to be used as filler. Following countless attempts and a number of setbacks, he was finally able to obtain a production licence and ordered the raw tobacco and the machinery. And since April 2016, his dream of the first truly Swiss cigarette has become a reality.