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Home > Calvados > Fruit: Apples & Pears

The Fruit of Calvados: Apples & Pears

Unlike armagnac and cognac, which are made from grapes, calvados is derived from apples, pears, or a combinatino of both.

Calvados Apples

It's estimated that 800 varieties of apples exist in Normandy and about a hundred varieties can be commonly found there. Unlike table varieties we find on grocer's shelves, the varieties used for the cider that will be distilled are small and fall into four major categories:

  • Sweet
  • Bittersweet
  • Bitter
  • Acidic
Varieties of apples used to make calvados brandy
Most producers blend sweet, bittersweet, bitter, and acidic
varieties together to make a complex, balanced cider.

For the most part, these apples resemble crabapples. They are not the types of apples one would pick off a tree and eat, as they can be quite tannic, dry, or mouthwateringly sharp. Most of the apple's flavor comes from the skin rather than the pulp, and the small size of the apples insures maximum flavor. A large variety of apples is also important for other reasons, including pollination, alternative bearing, and the differing harvesting periods.

Calvados Pears

Pears are also used for calvados, specifically in the Domfrontais region. There are over 200 varieties of pears used for pear cider or poiré and about 30 are commonly found throughout the Norman orchards nowadays. Pear trees have a deeper root system than apples They thrive on the deep clay and granite soils of the Domfrontais. Although pears can be found in other regions of Normandy, many of these are on dwarf rootstock and used more for the emerging poiré category rather than for distillation.

Pears used to make calvados brandy
Pears have higher acidity than apples, resulting in a more delicate spirit.

Calvados Fruit Trees

Haute-Tiges - standard rootstock - orchard
Haute-Tiges (standard rootstock) orchard
Basses-tiges - drawf rootstock - apple trees in Normandy France
Basses-Tiges (drawf rootstock) orchard
in Southeastern Normandy near Coquerelle

Two types of rootstock exist in Normandy that affect the size of the trees and the density in which you can plant your orchard.

Standard Rootstock

Trees grown on standard rootstock reach about 30 feet in height and are generally planted 10 meters apart from each other. They normally don't give much useable fruit until about their 20th birthday.

Dwarf Rootstock

Apples and pears can also be grown on dwarf rootstock. These can be planted at much higher density and begin giving useable fruit by a tree's third or fourth birthday.

Trees on dwarf rootstock often see chemical treatments, while those on standard rootstock do not usually need treatments with synthetic chemicals. Many of the trees used in dwarf orchards produce apples that will eventually make their way into bottled cider, while many on standard rootstock are ancient varieties with a solid track record for producing quality spirits.

About Calvados

Calvados Producers

Calvados Video

Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy

Cover to the book Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy by Charles Neal

Calvados is an astounding 700-page stroll through the history and culture of Normandy and Calvados producers, through orchards and cellars, down to seemingly esoteric details, like what a producer might have scribbled in chalk on a typical barrel.
— Eric Asimov, New York Times

Neal explains the varieties of apples (or pears) used, how the fruit is picked, made into cider, and then distilled and aged. But more importantly, how to taste and appreciate this unique spirit.
— S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times essential reference on an underappreciated topic.
— Jon Bonné, San Francisco Chronicle

Buy Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy by Charles Neal at Barnes and Noble

Also by Charles Neal:

Armagnac: The Definitive Guide to France's Premier Brandy

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