Delicious Calvados Brandy from Normandy

Delicious Calvados Brandy from Normandy

They say that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” It’s doubtful that was the philosophy behind the creation of the apple-based brandy called Calvados, produced in the Normandy region of France. But something had to be done with all those apples lying about. Why not create something truly delish? The Lord de Gouberville answered that challenge and is credited with the first distillation in 1554.

It’s all in the Apples
Bite into the typical apple used in Calvados and you’ll most likely find your face puckering. Think persimmons or even lemons and you’ll get the picture. These apples are not apples for eating, but have the necessary proportion of sugar, acidity and tannins to produce quality cider.

Apples harvested between October and December are used. All must be of equal ripeness when they are put through the crusher. The resulting pulp is left to sit and “marinate” for a few hours, then it goes to a batch press that squeezes out all the juice. That juice goes into large oak barrels for fermentation, which can last anywhere from six weeks to a full year or more, depending on the preference of the producer. All this is this done before distillation.

The Making of Calvados
Take this fermented apple juice, or cider, and put it through a still to create a rich, colorless apple brandy. Then, store it away for at least two years in an oaken cask. The aging gives the brandy that smooth but potent kick. The longer the brandy is aged, the smoother the sip.

That’s the simplified explanation of how to make Calvados. But, in order to carry the AOC label, which stands for Appellation d’Origine Controlee, other standards must be met. The brandy must be made from locally grown apples. The Pommeau variety, also a creation of the Normandy area, combines apples with pears. In the case of AOC Calvados Pays d’Auge, made in a part of Normandy near the town of Lisieux, the brandy must be double distilled. This process, done in a pot still, allows the brandy to be aged longer than that produced by a single distillation in a typical column type still.

As an example, Calvados that goes through the single still distillation process has an alcohol content of about 30 percent. The double stilled variety can have an alcohol content of roughly 70 percent and that is before the aging process. In either case, the resulting liquid is clear. It is the aging that creates the brandy by giving that liquid its amber color, enhanced aromatics and a fuller, richer body.

Serving Calvados
In Normandy, meals are savored and not at all rushed. A local tradition, called “le trou Normand” which translates into “the Norman hole” calls for the serving of Calvados between courses, with or without a dish of apple sorbet. The idea is to cleanse the palate and rekindle the appetite. Considering that some Norman meals have five or more courses, that’s a lot of stimulating.

Creative cooks sometimes use Calvados in chicken and pork dishes, creating rich, sweet sauces to use in a sauté or to accent the meat. Often apples are added to the mix, along with butter and cream for a truly decadent texture and taste. Sliced apples sautéed in Calvados, perhaps with a bit of sage, make a sweet, tangy sauce that goes well with turkey, goose, pheasant or duck. Baked apples benefit from a sauce made from Calvados and brown sugar. Spoon a bit of Chantilly whip made with double cream, icing sugar and real vanilla on top of an open-faced apple tart. Heat some Calvados in a pan, strike a match, light the alcohol and pour over the cream and tart. Apple tart flambé anyone?

Here is a French recipe that combines chicken, apples and Calvados:

Normandy Chicken with Calvados
6 servings

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1.5kg chicken thigh fillets, halved
  • Ground nutmeg
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
  • 1 large brown onion, finely chopped
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) Calvados
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) chicken stock
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbs plain flour
  • 2-3 tbs water
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, extra, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
  • 125g (1/2 cup) sour cream

Preheat oven to 180°C (325 to 350 degrees). Heat the oil and half the butter in a large heavy-based frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook one-third of the chicken for 2-3 minutes each side or until golden. Transfer to a large casserole dish. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Repeat, in 2 more batches, with the remaining chicken.

Reduce heat to medium. Add the apple to the frying pan and cook for 2 minutes each side or until light golden. Place over the chicken in the dish. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook onion in pan, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes or until soft. Add to the dish. Cover and bake for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the Calvados, stock, vinegar and thyme in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to the boil. Combine the flour and a little water in a small bowl. Gradually add the flour mixture to the cider mixture, whisking constantly, until well combined. Stir until thick. Simmer for 3 minutes.

Heat remaining butter in the frying pan over medium heat. Add the extra apple and cook for 3-4 minutes each side or until golden.

Add the sour cream to the Calvados mixture and stir over medium heat for 1 minute or until the sauce is just heated through.

Transfer the chicken and apple mixture to a serving platter. Pour over the sauce and top with the apple rings. Bon Appétit!

Of course one way to enjoy Calvados is in an oversized brandy snifter accompanied by some cheese, crusty bread and fresh fruit. Or just indulge in the Calvados aroma and taste without anything else to distract your attention.

Here is one of our favorite Calvados Cocktails Calvados Sidecar

  • Freshly ground cinnamon
  • Sugar
  • 1 Lime or lemon wedge
  • 1 oz Calvados
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz Fresh lemon juice
  • Garnish with an orange twist and serve is a nice martini glass or similar

Perhaps you’ll get to sample this regional specialty on your next barge cruise. The Barge Connection, specializing in European Barge Vacations since 1998, offers luxurious hotel barge cruises throughout the French countryside. Imagine holding a snifter of this amber delight as you relax on deck and watch the hills and valleys roll by. Perhaps you’ll see an apple orchard or two and smile. Your apple a day is already in your hand.

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