I have decided that Monday posts on this blog will be about a variety of different wines and spirits from a whole host of countries. While my main theme is Italy, I do try to be a slightly well rounded taster of fermented drinks. A quick translation would be that I am hard pressed to find a wine or a spirit that I don’t like or that I don’t try at least once.
Today’s spirit is Calvados, an apple brandy which hails from Normandy. Calvados can be made from over 200 different apple varieties. Many producers use more than 100 types in their Calvados blends.
Good Calvados comes from apples which are picked by hand. The apples are then pressed into a juice which is allowed to ferment into dry cider. The cider is distilled into eau de vie. After distillation, Calvados spends time aging in oak casks. Distillation can take place in either a single column still or in a pot still for a double distillation. This latter type actually produces the finer Calvados.
Calvados production, like wine, is regulated by the appellation contrôlée system in France. To be an AOC, Calvados must come from certain restricted area and it must spend a minimum of two years aging in oak barrels. The types of apples used to make cider are also regulated as are pressing, fermentation, distillation and aging methods.
Calvados can also be made from pears. Domfrontais is an area that is especially well known for its pear calvados.
Like in a Sherry or a Cognac, the age listed on the bottle is usually the age of the youngest brandy in the blend. Calvados has a very specific labeling system which can be confusing at times. The youngest calvados which is at least two years old is called “Fine”, “Trois étoiles”, or “Trois pommes.” Three years or more and the Calvados can use the expression Vieux” or Réserve.” If it is at least four years old, it can use the “V.O.”, “Vieille Réserve”, “V.S.O.P.”
For the finest Calvados or those that are at least six years old, “Extra”, “X.O.”, “Napoléon”, “Hors d’Age” “Age Inconnu” are the terms used. That said, much Calvados is considerably older than just the six years.
I got to thinking about Calvados because I went Apple picking yesterday. The orchard had apple and pear trees and was a perfect place to spend a gorgeous Sunday in the Fall. Apple season is just starting so the trees were pretty laden with fruit. So much of the fruit fell off the trees and was lying on the ground it was a real shame.
In a week or so, I imagine it will be distilled into some type of natural pulp which will make the orchard rife with insects and bees. Hopefully the apples will be given away to a food bank. The trees were just laden with ripe fruit.
Calvados can be used as an after dinner digestif instead of a Cognac or another brandy. It can also be used to cleanse the palate in-between courses. In Italy, Calvados is usually consumed over apple sorbet. My dear friend Paolo never finished a meal without the requisite sorbetto con Calvados. During all those years that we dined together I have to say I only ordered it once or twice. It was memorable but I just never got into the habit of ordering it.
I just found this great post on cooking with Calvados so I thought I would put in a link. The writer has found a great recipe for cooking with Calvados and pears. When I got home from the orchard, I made an apple pie. It was delicious and much less elaborate than this recipe. When you go apple picking, you generally bring home to many apples and sometimes too many pears. I think I will be using every apple recipe I can find in the next few weeks.
I rarely order this splendid brandy after a meal but this summer had the good fortune to visit Claude Monet’s house at Giverny in Normandy, Calvados’ home. While there, I had the opportunity to try some local brands of Calvados. I thoroughly enjoyed them and when I got home I began to look for a local purveyor of this delicious brandy. I found a pretty limited selection even at the top liquor stores. Some brands that were widely available are Boulard, Busnel, Cardinal, and Coeur de Lion, among others. My friend Jason loves Calvados so I think I may ask his opinion for some recommendations.
While the Calvados was grand, Monet’s home and his waterlilies left me speechless. For all those who love Monet, this is a pilgrimage you must make at least once in your life. I am going to post a series of pictures of the lilies because they are just exquisite.
Here’s another one. I just love his paintings and seeing his home was actually a moving experience for me.
I must not be alone because it was quite crowded.
It was a perfect day in a beautiful town in Normandy which started with a lovely walk through Monet’s gardens and ended with a delicious glass of Calvados.
A memorable event and one to be repeated.