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Calvados is one of the three great French brandies, and originates from Basse-Normandie (Lower Normany), in northwestern France. In order to protect the quality and ensure its individuality the region has been awarded an AOC, which means it can only be made in a designated area and by specific rules before it can be called Calvados.
The etymology of the word "calvados" (which refers to the department of Calvados), comes from a cluster of rocks off the Normandy coast. It gained its greatest popularity during the phylloxera plague that decimated the French winemaking industry during the late 1800s. With Calvados there are three appellations:
AOC Calvados, the most basic level The fruit used must conform to specified varieties. The fermented juice is column distilled, and must be aged for a minimum of two years. Seventy percent of brandies used to make calvados must come from the AOC designated area of Calvados. Steps in production are controlled for quality and consistency.
AOC Paye d'Auge AOC Paye d'Auge is considered the highest quality Calvados, and is made by double pot stilling, which means a greater level of flavour is gained from the fruit.
Calvados Domfrontais Calvados Domfrontais is a pear predominant Calvados. It must be made with more than 30% pears from the Domfrontais region, is column distilled, and must be aged for more than 3 years.
Fermier Calvados Fermier Calvados designates Calvados that has been made entirely on the farm in a traditional way and can yield Calvados of very good quality. Pommeau is a blend of apple juice and Calvados that has been matured in oak and is then bottled.
To produce Calvados, the apples are picked and stored before making cider in the colder months. They ferment the cider in large oak casks. The apples used to make Calvados are smaller and more bitter than those used to make cider, and thus yield a very dry cider. This is then either column distilled for Calvados, or double pot distilled for Calvados Paye d'Auge.
The colourless eau de vie that comes off the still must then be aged in an oak barrel for a minimum of two years before it can be called Calvados. The ageing process adds smoothness and complexity and the spirit will continue to improve with age.
Calvados will be blended before bottling and in making an age statement on the bottle, producers must use only the age of the youngest brandy in the blend, although single vintage Calvados are sometimes made, and these will carry the year the Calvados was made rather than an age statement. Fine, Trois étoiles, Trois pommes all indicate Calvados that is aged least two years. Vieux or Reserve indicate Calavos aged at least three years. VO, Vielle Reserve, or VSOP all indicate the spirit has been aged least four years. Extra, XO, Napoléon, Hors d'Age must have been aged for at least six years.