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If there's anything you want to know about Calvados, the French apple brandy named for the district in Normandy where the apples grow and the brandy is distilled, do I have the book for you. It's called, simply, "Calvados," and for more than 750 pages, it explores the history and geography of the delicious drink in sturdy, workmanlike prose by Charles Neal, a San Francisco-based wine importer and writer who spent 11 years on the project.
With maps, photographs, charts and glossaries, plus interviews with some 200 producers of all sizes, Neal has produced an encyclopedia that usually is interesting reading as well. True Calvados comes from the Calvados region of Normandy, the site of the bulk of the D-day fighting in 1944, and is made from apples, often with some local pears in the mix. The difference between Calvados and true brandy is that Calvados is distilled from apple-and-pear cider while brandy is distilled from wine made from grapes. A geographical distinction also can be made -- by French law, Champagne comes from the district of that name, as Calvados comes from a specific district in Normandy.
Neal carefully details the drink's history, discussing techniques of growing apples and of producing the spirit, from harvest to bottle. As at wineries in other parts of France, Calvados producers range from individuals farmers who own trees and do their own distilling and blending, to co-ops of several producers in the region, to negociants who buy, distill, blend and sell Calvados to bottlers and distributors, and industrial producers who may grow trees but also buy fruit, raw juice and distilled spirits, becoming major manufacturers and sellers.
A fascinating book about a legendary drink, a favorite of mine for many years, and just right for enjoying together on a cold winter night.
Calvados, by Charles Neal. Flame Grape Press, San Francisco. 768 pages including indices. $60.