Wine is the drink of choice in France, producing some of the finest wines in the world. However, it shouldn't make you shy away from other distinctly French libations. If you're looking for something sweet to sip on, reach for a bottle of Calvados. The spirit can only be made in Normandy — or just outside the region — and is the result of distilling cider made from apples or pears. The original cider is generally made from a combination of four types of apples: sweet, bittersweet, bitter and sour. The flavor of calvados depends on the fruits used as well, the type of soil they were grown in and the method used for the original juice pressing.
The first known recordings of Calvados and apple brandy production go back as far as the mid-16th century, but it was initially made in small batches due to excessive taxation and the prohibition of apple brandy in many parts of France. In the late 1800s, an insect outbreak destroyed many of the vineyards in Normandy, turning producers' attention to apple orchards. Over the next century, industrial distilling techniques made Calvados readily available to the masses.
To produce Calvados, growers harvest apples and allow them to ferment into cider over a few weeks. This low-alcohol beverage is the base for Calvados. It's then distilled and put into oak casks, where it ages for a minimum of two years to reach official Calvados status. The longer it stays in the casks, the smoother and more flavorful it becomes. The most coveted bottle of Calvados is the Appellation d'origine controlee (AOC) Pays d'Auge, which gets a double distillation, while the AOC Calvados gets a single distillation.
How to Drink It: Young calvados is perfect as an aperitif, either on ice or with soda water, and pairs well with creamy Normandy cheeses. Older varieties complement apple pudding perfectly and are best served as an after-dinner drink.
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