Calvados: A (Potent) Norman Tradition
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The Normandy region of France is famous for seafood, cheese and Calvados. It's an apple brandy. Although it's well-known in France, Calvados makers want to increase exports, and as Eleanor Beardsley reports, they think there's a great potential market in the United States.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY reporting:
The apple trees that cover the verdant and misty countryside are bursting with clusters of red and yellow fruit this time of year. Calvados maker Vincent Boulard stands in one of his family's orchards.
Mr. VINCENT BOULARD (Farmer): I belong to the fifth generation. My ancestors have been making Calvados, selling Calvados, and the company had been founded 180 years ago exactly, 1825.
BEARDSLEY: To make his Calvados, Boulard says he uses an amazing 120 varieties of apples, all grown in this particular part of Normandy, the Pays d'Auge, which he says is unique because of its chalk soil and mild, humid weather.
Mr. BOULARD: The aromas and the taste is coming from the bitter apples. The same variety being grown in another part of France would not make the same taste.
(Soundbite of orchard operations)
BEARDSLEY: It takes between eight and 16 pounds of apples to make a bottle of Calvados. The first step is to press the freshly picked apples and ferment the juice into cider. Hundreds of thousands of apples a day are washed, graded and pressed at a plant near Boulard's distillery. Boulard, who learned English picking apples in Great Britain, says his father Pierre was the first member of the family to try to sell Calvados abroad. Vincent Boulard is just as interested as his father in exporting the brandy, especially to the fast-growing markets of Russia and Scandinavia. But he also thinks there are plenty more customers in the United States.
Mr. BOULARD: I put together the two maps, the places where we sell Calvados Boulard and the places where the apple grows, and it fits very well together. This means that there is an apple culture, the taste of apple is there and the taste for Calvados is there as well.
BEARDSLEY: After the pressing and six months of fermentation, the cider is brought to the Calvados Boulard distillery. Apart from the larger scale and the use of gas rather than firewood, Boulard says not much has changed since his great-great-grandfather's day. The cider is distilled twice, using copper stills and coils, before it is aged in French oak casks. However, before it can bear the name Calvados, the liquor must first be approved in a blind tasting by a committee of local experts.
The troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day were among the first Americans to discover the pleasures of Calvados. And Boulard proudly reads a framed letter on his wall that was sent to his grandfather Lucian(ph) by the commander of Allied forces in Europe.
Mr. BOULARD: `Mrs. Eisenhower and I are deeply grateful with heftiest thanks and best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year. Sincerely, Dwight Eisenhower.'
BEARDSLEY: The apple brandy still plays a role in everyday Norman life. There's a tradition known as the Trou Normand when a break is taken in the middle of a meal for a shot of Calvados, just to aid the digestion. For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley.
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