The fascinating culture of Calvados

on 11/11/10 at 10:49 am

Spirits

Every autumn mobile stills tour Normandy so that small-scale orchard-owners can distill Calvados, the apple brandy that is at the heart of their way of life. 

Only after I had owned a farmhouse on the Cotentin peninsula of Normandy for several years did I pluck up the courage to trudge off-road and explore the contraption that parked itself in a small glade at the bottom of our valley every autumn. It was a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, a Tinguely sculpture of copper piping and tanks that hissed and disgorged a steaming brown effluent into the quagmire at its side. With a makeshift lean-to at its entrance and a plastic table and chairs set with glasses, throughout the day it would have a constant stream of visiting local farmers.

At closer investigation, the machine turned out to be a travelling calva (as Calvados is colloquially known) still, or alembic, owned by Mickael Lebrun, the nephew of a friend, Thérèse Noel, who had grown up in our house. I discovered that he spends four months of the year travelling the countryside distilling calva, and the remaining eight months as a butcher in nearby Agneaux.

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