Calvados is a distant cousin to two other very popular distilled beverages: Cognac & Armagnac. However, it is distilled from apples (or pears) whereas the previous two are distilled from grapes. There are of course, specific French laws that govern which apples must be used in making this particular drink (there are more than 200 varieties that are approved). The apples used in creating calvados are divided into four taste categories: acidic, bitter, bittersweet, and sweet. These different apples are blended together later by the distiller in order to create complexity in the calvados. French law dictates that calvados be produced using at least 74% fruit that come from the northern French region of Normandy.
During production, it is estimated that there can be up to 100 or more kinds of apples used to make just one batch of calvados! The reason that so many varieties are used is to create a spirit that isn’t overly sweet, or bitter (which is where the categories of taste come in to play). For example, a recipe for calvados could be: 30% sweet apples, 40% acidic apples, and 30% bitter apples. The apples are pressed into a juice which is then fermented like cider; then distilled to create calvados. This distilled liquor is then aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels (the longer it is aged, the smoother it is to drink much like any other distilled alcohol).
Apart from production, calvados is also closely tied to the cuisine of the region itself. It is a tradition for each dinner guest to take a “trou Normand” in the middle of a meal. This “Norman hole” is said to create more room for eating in the dinner guests’ stomach. The sub-region of Pays d’Auge is the most famous site of production for calvados as the soil and apples are thought to be superior to the rest of the region. Pays d’Auge calvados also goes through a double distillation process, creating a smoother product.
It is estimated that more than 50% of calvados is exported to other markets, showing the global demand for this wonderful spirit! Calvados can be used in cocktails, served as an aperitif, a digestif, or just simply poured over sorbet. It pairs wonderfully with cheeses, chocolates, desserts, even ice cream! It is also used in many traditional recipes from Normandy as its flavor complements many dishes.
Come by Portalis and have a glass at the bar! We’re currently pouring Boularde Grand Solage VSOP Calvados ($8.00 a glass).