Saturday, January 03, 2009


Since I discovered it many years ago, one of my favorite digestifs has been calvados, which is a Normandy brandy. It's very similar to cognac and armagnac, but it's made from apples instead of grapes.

My bottle of 15-year-plus Marcel Breton calvados.

Calvados shares its name with the French administrative department in Normandy where it was supposedly first made. According to Wikipédia, the first written account of calvados appeared in the sixteenth century.

A glass of rich, smokey calva.

To make calvados, apples are pressed and the juice is fermented into cider, which is then distilled into an eau-de-vie. The brandy spends at least two years in oak before it is bottled. I read that there are about 200 varieties of apples that are used to make calvados, and that some producers blend up to 100 types to make their particular version.

Northwestern France. Magny-le-Désert is where we bought the calvados. Saint-Aignan (where we live) is about a four hour drive to the southeast.

In Spring 2005, Ken and I drove up to Normandy for a few days. On our way back to Saint-Aignan, we stopped in a town called Magny-le-Désert to look for a calvados producer that we had seen featured on a show we watch on Cuisine TV. We really didn't think we'd find it, as we weren't certain of the name or its location.

Mr. Breton's sign, hidden behind foliage. It's a wonder we found it!
Photo by Ken.

After driving around a bit, we actually stumbled on the place! We drove in; it was basically a house and a barn. We knocked on the door of the house, but nobody seemed to be home. Just as we were about to give up, a older man came to the door. We asked him if he sold calvados and he invited us inside to taste some.

Mr. Breton's house. There's an historic stone lintel above the door, recuperated from a much older building. Photo by Ken.

He brought us into the dining room of his house, which was fairly modern, and we sat at a huge oak table which was obviously the family table. Behind him was a huge cabinet filled with glasses and bottles. When we told him we had seen his place on television, he smiled and pointed outdoors to where the taping had taken place (the show typically has a bunch of local farmers and growers gathered around a big barbecue featuring all their food and drink). The episode was made at least three years earlier, and we had seen a re-run.

We tasted at least three good-sized glasses of calvados. It was just before lunch and there we were, sipping brandy on an empty stomach. He drank right along with us of course. He got to telling us stories about his experiences there during the war, what life was like under German occupation and how it was when the Americans came through. He showed us some old photos, if I remember correctly.

He told us he had to get going because he had a doctor's appointment to keep, so we bought a few bottles and headed out to find some lunch. The bottle pictured here, the one that I opened on New Year's Day, is one that we brought back from his place. It was at least fifteen years old when we bought it, which would date it to around 1990.

When I tasted it, I was amazed. Normally the calvados I drink is very fruity, but this one tasted like it spent a bit more than two years on oak. It was rich and smokey flavored, with just a hint of the old apples that made it.

I'll wager it won't last very long now that it's opened.


  1. I wonder if M. Breton is related to Robert Esnault-Pelterie a well known French aviation and astronautics pioneer. A crater on the Moon has been named after him.
    Do you think there is Calvados up there?

  2. we brought home 2 bottles from our trip 3 yrs ago - trouble is there is not a big call for a winter time drink like Calvadoes here in Florida!! But we cracked a 12 yr old one in Dec and it still goes well as a sipper after dinner even without a fire place!! we loved Pommeau also - bit better than the cider! Now for cognac tasting someday!!

  3. Walt, I loved the Calvados story. Great looking Normandy house. Your bagels (on Ken's blog) look absolutely wonderful, as usual. I remember marveling at them in another post.

    I have a question kind of out of the blue (because I was planning a class unit in my head): what kinds of things (vocabulary topics, for example) do you think that you either wish you had learned more about before going to your year in France (back in '81), or what topics are you especially glad that you learned about that helped you be prepared for your year in France? I'm always struggling with feeling like I want to reject the literature-based curriculum. There's just not enough time to teach everything, and I like to focus on skills and vocabulary that are very practical if my students were to travel in France or become au pairs, for example. I remember not knowing so many daily words and expressions, like the tons of household things and everyday conversational expressions or directions you might get from your "family". I might be biased, just because I find those things more interesting, myself :) I remember Ken having made up a little blue cover booklet for all of us who were going to be going on the Alma program... it had so much helpful information in it.

    Anyway.... just wondering!


  4. I love learning things from bloggers.
    I have never heard of Calvados.
    It is something I would wish to try some day.

  5. I don't anyone who can make photographs of bottles look sexier than you.

  6. chm, interesting! I wonder. But if there were Calvados on the moon, we might have gone back more...

    judy, that's an interesting question and one that I'll have to give some thought to. It's been so long since 1981, hehehe. I think I still have a copy of that booklet that Ken did, somewhere.

    ur-spo, you should definitely try it. I'd be surprised if there wasn't a purveyor of wines and liquors in your area that would carry it.

    victor, most bottles look sexier than me ;)

  7. I second Dale re Pommeau. We discovered it a few years ago on a holiday in Normandy. Yum.

  8. dale, I'm so sorry I forgot to respond to your comment! But I think that I agree with you about Pommeau vs. cidre. Although I haven't really tasted a lot of either, I must confess.

  9. I've hardly ever drunk Calvados, just in Normandy I guess. We're more into Cognac down here -- Armagnac too, but we've never bought any of that.

  10. susan, I must try pommeau one of these days. I think we even have a bottle in the cellar...

    betty, I like cognac and armagnac, too, perhaps a bit more than I should. ;)

  11. I love Calvados. This time of year it just seems like the perfect drink.

  12. dan, I couldn't agree more!

  13. The calvados available here tastes like fire water,unless you spend over $50

  14. I saw the picture of the Marcel Breton Calvados above.

    My mother was Belgian/French and grew up in Normandie.

    She loved her Calvados, U.S. Apple Jack just didn't cut it.

    Would you have any clue where I could pick up a 15 year old bottle of the Marcel Breton?

    It would be greatly appreciated as I have only been able to get ahold of a 6 year old bottle so far when my brother-in-law went to France a couple of years ago.


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