Last month, in the midst of Apple Season in Lower Normandy, I had the opportunity to take a journey on the so-called Cider Route and make a stop at one of its most prestigious (and quaint) Calvados distilleries, Le Château du Breuil.
What I saw, was a real tale of terroir and slow-living. Where misty climate, shallow soil and patience (with a drop of audacity) are equally responsible for creating this gold liquor, resting in their cellars.
AOC Pays d’Auge Calvados Distillery, Est. 1954
Les Jourdains, 14130, Le Breuil en Auge, Calvados.
Paris < > Le Breuil en Auge: 197 kms // 122.5 miles
In the heart of Lower-Normandy, The Pays d’Auge is known for its charming villages of half-timbered houses, lush apple-tree pastures and artisanal cow farms, responsible for the most delicious cheeses in the world (Camembert, Livarot and Pont- L’Evêque).
Less known, are its opulent manors and castles nested along the orchards of its “Route du Cidre” (Cider Route).
Stretching from Beuvron-en-Auge to Cambremer, the Cider Route is a winding road unfolding over 40 kilometres in the Normandy Bocage. It takes you through some of the region’s best producers of apple cider, poiré (pear cider), and, of course, calvados apple brandy.
The Château du Breuil is one you won’t want to miss.
A little history…
Calvados is an icon in the Lower Normandy culture. Made for centuries, this amber-hued sweet liqueur is distilled from dry cider, produced with blends of specially grown Normandy apples. Praised for its sweetness and smooth layers of fruit and oak, it notably became the drink of choice of US and Canadian regiments who settled in the area after the storming of the D-Day beaches- during WW2. An episode that contributed to carrying the fame of the gold nectar across the Atlantic borders.
Many calvados distilleries, damaged during WW2, were then reconstructed and modernized to face the increasing demand. A demand ever increasing, to this day.
Nevertheless, it would be an overstatement to say Calvados enjoys the same fame as wine in France, and in the rest of the world. Yet, a few distilleries have been fierily committed to keep the tradition alive in Normandy, and large houses such as Boulard and Pere Magloire have made a great world-wide reputation for themselves. Smaller-scale producers strive to offer more distinctive and nuanced products.
And I like to think Château du Breuil offers some of the most inspired and authentic ones.
The Château du Breuil is an impressive half-timbered edifice built in the 16th century. Once home to lords and knights, it then hosted sequentially a flax mill, a cheese farm, a chocolate factory and a cidery before finally becoming a Calvados distillery in 1954.
The Château du Breuil produces premium calvados, under the label “Calvados – Pays d’Auge”, which requires only apples produced in Pays d’Auge area. With the area’s unique clay-limestone soil and damp weather, these flavorsome, high-quality apples are known to make a finer Calvados. Bigger names operating under the simple “Calvados” label, meaning they can source apples from anywhere within the region.
Surrounded by 42 hectares of 22,000 apple trees, the distillery produces each year 370 000 bottles, with more than half of them being imported to 52 countries.
The apples are harvested from September to December. More than 50 varieties of apples are grown under the “Calvados – Pays d’Auge”, which are either sweet (such as the ‘Rouge Duret’), tart (such as the ‘Rambault’), or bitter (such as the ‘Mettais’). They are then pressed into a juice that is fermented into a dry cider, ready to be distilled.
The “Calvados – Pays d’Auge” label also requires a double-distillation. This is a more expensive, labor-intensive process, but which guarantees the elimination of the roughiest parts of the alcohol. After the cider is double-distilled into an “eu-de-vie”, it is transfered to be matured in the cellar.
Standing in a park among centennial trees, The Château du Breuil’s cellar is simply magnificent. Mingling wooden beams hang on rugged stone walls, supporting the two aisles of oak casks.
The placement of each cask has been carefully chosen by the cellar master – the synergies of wood, air and alcohol playing their part in the maturing of each calvados ’cask.
The “younger” Fine Calvados’ from Château du Breuil are aged for 2 years in the oak before being bottled and sold. As with wine, the longer Calvados is aged in barrels, the smoother the liquor gets. And maturation can go on for quite some time in Le Chateau du Breuil (up to 25 years!).
The castle produces more than a dozen varieties of Calvados, with an impressive selection of “Hors d’ Age” Calvados (aged from 6 to 25 years in casks) and audacious blends (including “Le Royal” made with Château du Breuil’s Cellar Master secrets).
While visiting Le Château du Breuil and speaking with the workers, you can clearly see their dedication to produce some of the best calvados there is. The distillery is succeeding beautifully in perpetrating a local craftsmanship, with Pays d’Auge apples at the core of it all. Surely, a great ode to Normandy terroir.
It is the owner’s dream to one day see Calvados reach the same popularity of French spirits like Cognac or Armagnac.
“But we’re just not there, yet.”
How to enjoy Calvados?
In Normandy, Calvados is the base of the Trou Normand, or “the Normand Hole”. This a small glass of the liqueur taken between courses during a meal. The trou is intended to ease digestion and reawaken your appetite before the next course.
Calvados can also be enjoyed as an aperitif (on its own, with no ice or blended in drinks), or as a digestif (on its own or blended in coffee).
The gold nectar is also widely used in local terroir cuisine, for meats, pastries and desserts.
My 3 picks, among Le Château du Breuil selection.
- Fine Calvados – Aged two years in oak barrels. Gold in colour. Young, bright, very fruity and polished. A great introduction to the “Pays d’Auge-Calvados” label. Also, ideal for cooking and baking.
- 15 Ans d’Age – A blend of Calvados, that have aged a minimum of 15 years in oak. Amber in colour. Rich, voluptuous, complex with intense, yet balanced notes of apple, wood and almond.
- Pommeau de Normandie – A perfect marriage of apple juice and Calvados. Sweet, soft, with a velvety body. Like autumn in a glass.
If you visit the Normandy Region, I hope you will get some time to travel on the Cider Route and make a stop at Le Château du Breuil. I guarantee you will leave the castle with a few bottles of Calvados and pommeau…