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The history of Calvados – Apples to Cidre

We see apples today as very much part of our stable diet and thousands of varieties are available in the shops. In all probability these varieties have developed from the basic fruits cultivated by the Romans. Agronomists who lived in the third century BC talk of seven varieties and Pliny in the first century AD talks of 36 varieties. However many different apples there were, cross fertilisation has developed and greatly improved the fruits over the years into a fruit we enjoy to eat. Of course all this is fine if that is what we are going to do, simply eat the apples and indeed even turning them into a cider as we know it produces an agreeable mildly sweet drink which will ferment into an alcoholic beverage in a relatively short space of time.

But that is no good for making calvados where distillation is required to reduce the cidre to a spirit and a level of acidity, usually undesirable in apple varieties grown for eating is used. Indeed so undesirable was this phenomenon that any apples found with this characteristic were sidelined for the sweeter and more pleasant eating fruits. Help was however at hand in the pear of which some varieties are known to have a higher level of acidity but even these were preferred sweeter and the Gallo-Roman Palladius tells us how the Romans prepared pear wines which they enjoyed with their cooking, there is mention in the Gourmand Apicius of a recipe of diced pork and Matien apples. There are still a few apples in existence which have a relatively high acidic value and indeed there is still at least one AOC calvados which is claimed to be made from only apples. The flavour is not one which is easily enjoyed, lacking in depth and complexity and it is easy to see how modern distillates have created greater depth of style and flavour.

It was during the thirteenth century that the skills of press and crushing techniques were enhanced. Around Caen people drank cider but the first drink was ale or wines, however cider was regarded as a better drink than water. In addition cider was sold as “cider” yet suspicious names like Succus Malorium (malus is latin for apple), “succus pomis”, “pomatium”, and “piratium”. These reminded people of potions rather than a refreshing drink but little by little the term “cidre” would start to find its way back into the language until by the Renaissance it had become the word most used for the beverage.