Cider apple trees appeared in Normandy between the 10th and 12th centuries following the trade routes between northwestern Spain and the Cotentin region.
These varieties, rich in tannins, quickly supplanted the wild apple trees whose fruit was previously used to make a drink called "pomatium" and allowed the development of cider production and later distillation.
Cider brandy is attested to in the 16th century in the diary of Gilles de Gouberville, a gentleman from the Cotentin region, who mentions, on March 28, 1553, that the cultivation of cider apple trees was encouraged by the arrival of new varieties from the Basque Country.
The cider brandy trade became flourishing during the 18th century and the fall of the Ancien Régime allowed the abolition of the fiscal borders between the provinces and the Parisians discovered the cider brandy originating from a newly created department: Calvados. The name Calvados will then be progressively associated with the Norman cider brandy. It knew its golden age during the phylloxera epidemic which devastated the vineyards of France and Europe at the end of the 19th century.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Normandy, like other cider-producing regions, produced alcohol bought by the State for its armament industry. At the same time, the distilleries continued to produce cider brandy. This double activity and the resulting frauds led to a reaction from the "bouilleurs de cru" (distillers) who demanded in the 1930's the protection of the traditional production of Calvados, a term that was increasingly usurped to describe cider brandies produced in any region.
Calvados thus obtained its appellation of controlled origin (AOC) in 1942.
Currently, more than 50% of the calvados production is exported.
Since 1984, three appellations co-exist according to geographical areas of production strictly delimited by the INAO:
- "CalvadosCalvados" (74% of the total production of Calvados) must come from the single or double distillation of a Normandy cider from the following areas: most of Basse-Normandie (except for the Saint-André campaign) and the Bray region;
- "Calvados from the Auge region"(25% of the production) must come from the double distillation of a cider from the Auge region;
- "Calvados domfrontais"(1% of the production, AOC obtained in 1997) must come from cider and at least 30% perry, from the granite soils of the Domfrontais region, with single or double distillation in column stills and maturation in oak barrels for a minimum of three years.
Its grape varieties
Calvados can be made from over 300 varieties of apples and over 150 varieties of pears.
The fruit is harvested and pressed, and the resulting must undergoes natural fermentation. The varieties of cider apples used are either sweet (such as the red duret variety), tart (such as the rambault variety), bittersweet or bitter (such as mettais, saint-martin, frequin or red binet).
Bitter apples, which are inedible, are used in particular to limit the sugar content of sweet apples in the must.
It is the subtle combination of these varieties that gives the cider to be distilled the balance and the character that will be found in the Calvados.
Its distillation and aging
The ciders or perries are distilled either with a copper pot still with a maximum capacity of 30 hl, or continuously with a multi-stage column (19 plates maximum) with a maximum flow of 250 hl per 24 hours of operation.
A minimum delay of 21 days, during which the fermentation has taken place, is fixed between the extraction of the juice and the distillation.
The boiler of the distillation apparatus is heated by open fire or by an indirect steam circuit.
The final distillate has an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 72%.
The brandies are aged for a minimum period of 24 months in sessile or pedunculate oak barrels or casks or their crossing, with a capacity of 20 hl or less for at least 15% of the cask or volume of the brandies less than 2 years old held in the cellar.