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The history of Calvados – World War 2

The German occupation of Normandy was centred around the town of Caen in the north. They set up a sort of control centre called a “Kommandantur” in the Town Hall, which was able to make systematic requisitions of alcohols produced in France. However the system bypassed cognac and armagnac as they were “Labels of Origin” – even in wartime one needs a good drink! However the calvados image was not good and in an effort to improve it and to withdraw the regionally produced calvados from the requisitions, it became recognised with an appellation d’origine in 1942. The industry was protected and effectively became the third great brandy of France from that point.

The system created three types of appellation. Firstly there was calvados from the Pays d’Auge or Calvados d’appellation controlee Pays d’Auge made of apples from controlled orchards in Pays d’Auge. Then came the second type being AOR which came from ten selected areas, the best known being calvados du Domfrontais followed by calvados du Peche, calvados du Merlerault, calvados du Cotentin, calvados de l’Avranchin, calvados du Pays de la Risle, calvados du Pays de Bray, calvados du Montainais, and calvados du Pays du Merlerault. All of these areas were combined into one appellation in 1984  known as AOC. There was however a third type for the remaining brandy and cider production from other areas which also included Brittany called the Eaux de Vie de Cidre Réglementée (cider brandy from regulated and controlled origin).

The war had a serious effect on Normandy, especially the cider and calvados producing area. Apart from the damage caused by bombing and shelling of the towns (especially Caen), the orchards became neglected. The importance of the orchards fades into oblivion when compared to the huge military operations such as Overlord and the huge loss of life in the area. Despite the horrors of war veterans witnessed pleasant encounters with the locals who dug up barrels and bottles which had been hidden from the Germans to share with the troops. Some went through the rest of the campaign with two canteens, one for water, the other for wounds.