WHAT IS CALVADOS?
Just as brandy is distilled wine and whisky is basically distilled beer, calvados is distilled cider. It must be produced in the legally-defined Calvados region of Normandy in northern France. The drink has been produced for hundreds of years, with the first recorded distillation taking place in 1553 and the guild for cider distillation founded in 1606.
Calvados producers use many dozens of different varieties of apples, plus a few pears, to create a palette of flavours in their ciders. The liquors resulting from distillation, known as eaux de vie, are typically aged in barrels for several years before being blended to create the final product.
Like most things to do with food and drink in France, calvados is legally defined by geographic location. There are three terroirs in Calvados with an appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) designation:
- Calvados AOC, which makes up over 70% of total output. Usually, producers use a single-column distillation rather than double distillation in pot stills. This results in a generally lighter and fruit-forward spirit, with less depth and character.
- Domfrontais AOC, a pear-heavy calvados that reflects the tradition of pear orchards in the area. Distillers must use at least 30 percent pears in the fermentation. They also generally use a column still.
- Pays d’Auge AOC, which is limited to an area around the east end of the département of Calvados, has more restrictions on production and is generally considered the “best” AOC. The cider must be fermented for at least six weeks, before double-distillation in a pot still for added complexity of flavour.
Other countries also make cider brandy, but it can’t be called calvados. For example, there are records of cider brandy production in the English county of Somerset dating back to the 17th century.
Like Scotch whisky, calvados received a huge boost to demand in the late 19th century when the vines of south-west France were ravaged by phylloxera, an aphid-like bug from North America, devasting production of Cognac and Armagnac.
There are two traditional ways of consuming calvados: a “café calva” where a dram of liquor is mixed with an espresso or served beside a coffee; and “le trou Normand” where small glasses are consumed between the courses of a large meal.