Apéro’clock: that time of day when you head out for a glass of something cold and alcoholic! In many parts of France, you might see people reaching for the wine, but did you know that in Normandy the drinks menu revolves not around grapes, but around apples and pears?
Normandy cider, poiré [pear cider], Pommeau and Calvados are all made with a mix of bittersweet, sweet, sharp and bitter apples and/or pears, chosen from the hundreds of varieties that grow in the region. Here is a breakdown of the main ones:
Bittersweet: Low in acid and high in tannin, these characterful and flavoursome apples add a subtly sharp and bitter notes to cider. Examples: pisque, binet rouge and bedan.
Sweet: The blandest of all varieties, these apples are low in acid and tannins and are often used to balance more strongly flavoured notes. They also encourage fermentation and raise alcohol levels. Examples: rouge duret and douce coetligné.
Sharp: These acidic apples bring freshness or ‘bite’ to the cider, and balance out sweet varieties. They are low in sugar and tannins. Examples: petit jaune, rambault and cidor.
Bitter: Known as ‘spitters’, these apples and pears are rich in tannins, which provide texture and that fuzzy dry feeling in your mouth. They are used to add body and depth to cider. Examples of apple: fréquin rouge, mettais and moulin à vent. Examples of pear: plant de blanc, rouge vigné, gros blot, plant roux, de cloche and gaubert.
The distinctive flavours of Normandy’s numerous apple and pear-themed beverages are produced using centuries-old family recipes and traditional aging methods. Here are some of the main tipples on offer:
Cidre bouché: Has a lively natural sparkle, golden colour and full-bodied but fresh taste. Ideal for sharing on a summer evening.
Cidre doux: Sweet and generally low in alcohol (around 3%). Often cloudy with a slight golden orange hue, with gentle foam on top.
Cidre brut: Dry with acidic notes and a higher alcohol content than sweeter varieties (4.5% and above).
Cidre demi-sec: Fruity and sweeter than dry cider, this refreshing drink (3-5%) goes down a treat with crêpes or tarte tatin.
Poiré AOP: Made up of at least 40% plant de blanc pears, poiré is pressed then left to naturally ferment, resulting in a dry, lightly sparkling drink with a distinctive floral bouquet.
Pommeau: A sweet, amber-hued aperitif (16-18%) made from two parts freshly-pressed tannin-rich apple juice and one part young Calvados.
Calvados AOC et Pays d’Auge AOC: Traditional brandy made from cider, which is distilled and aged in oak barrels for at least two years. The longer Calvados is aged, the smoother it becomes. Younger Calvados has bittersweet, fruity flavours while older Calvados develops nutty aromas and complex coffee and chocolate notes.
Calvados Domfrontais AOC: Calvados Domfrontais differs from other types of Calvados on account of the high percentage of pears used alongside apples. The granite soil of the Pays de Domfront and distillation process also contribute to its uniquely floral, fruity taste and mineral characteristics.
Which Normandy tipple tickles your fancy? Take our thirst-quenching quiz to find out!
Question 1. When would you like to have your drink?
a) Before dinner (go to Question 2)
b) With your meal (go to Question 3)
c) Between courses (go to Question 4)
d) After I’ve finished, thank you (go to Question 5)
Question 2. Do you have a sweet tooth?
a) Certainly not (go to Answer 1)
b) Perhaps I do… (go to Answer 2)
Question 3. Are you having meat, cheese, fish or seafood?
a) Meat or cheese (go to Answer 3)
b) Fish or seafood (go to Answer 4)
Question 4. Do you need a palate cleanser?
a) I’m fine actually (go back to Question 3)
b) Well, that chicken stew was rather rich… (go to Answer 5)
Question 5. Are you ready for bed?
a) Almost (go to Answer 6)
b) No way, the night is young! (go to Answer 7)
Answer 1. Neat Calvados
Serve chilled or over ice to awaken your appetite before a large meal. The ultimate aperitif!
Answer 2. Pommeau
Calvados blended with cider apple juice, served chilled or over ice
Answer 3. Trou normand
Otherwise known as ‘the Norman hole’, this is neat Calvados with apple or pear sorbet, taken between courses to cleanse the palate
Answer 4. Cidre
Refreshing, fruity and not too strong, this is the perfect accompaniment to rich stews, chicken, beef, cheese and creamy sauces
Answer 5. Poiré
Dry, crisp and lightly sparkling, poiré is ideal with fish or seafood
Answer 6. As a digestif with coffee
To aid your digestion before bed, why not enjoy a smidgen of neat Calvados served at around 16-20º, alongside your coffee?
Answer 7. Calvados cocktail
Not ready to hit the hay? Ask the bar tender to whip you up a cocktail! We recommend the Calvados Royal (Calvados, strawberry liquor and Champagne) or the Calvados Mojito (Calvados, lime juice, cane sugar and soda water)
For further information on food and drink in the region, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.
Cover photo © Eric Lorang | Text: The Sawday’s guide to Normandy cider 2015