About Calvados and truffles, in 500 words

By Xavier Horcajo

Normandy was still waiting on its beaches for the “Private Ryans” to free France, which had been under the yoke of Adolf Hitler for two years, when the producers of Calvados treasured an alcoholic beverage distilled from cider, and naturally a grandchild of the apple, that came into this world with French nationality in 1942. Its designation of origin linked it to those lands, but its legitimate pride does not mean that they are only adoptive parents of the liquor.

We must go back in history to situate ourselves after the execution of María Estuardo in 1587, when Philip II – helped by Alejandro Farnesio, Duke of Parma, and Álvaro de Bazán, Fleet Admiral of Lisbon – ordered his fleet to approach the coasts of England in an attempt to invade the country, claiming the British throne for himself. That so-called “Invincible Armada” faced off the British fleet, which turned the crossing of the English Channel into a living hell comparable to the battle between the two fleets off the Isle of Wight at the end of July 1588.


The “San Salvador”, a ship commanded by Miguel de Oquendo, was severely damaged by fire after the explosion of a few barrels of gunpowder. Some of the crew made it to the south coast helped by barrels containing cider brandy of Asturian origin that came on board “unbaptized.” They reached mainland – holding onto barrels with cider liquor – at some point off the coast of Normandy, between Cherbourg and Le Havre, perhaps near Caen. Once they reached firm footing, safe and sound, although probably somewhat dazed, they saw apple trees. They stayed there and made a toast to their “Salvador” (savior), which gave way to the local toast with “Calvado” made of distilled liquor from those ciders. You can imagine the rest. By the way, if you want to give it a try in France, just order the drink by saying “en Calvá.”


The noble Romans worshiped truffles. Both white and black. They are grown in Italy, France and Spain. And strangely Spain consumes less than the other Mediterranean countries, being a nation where the most appreciated of them is grown: the tuber melanosporum, or black truffle. As with oil, the Spanish truffle arrives in Italy to be sold in a natural state, frozen, or to produce black truffle cream. The white kind is inevitably Piemontese (linked to the medieval city of Alba, homeland of confectionery company Ferrero) and not cultivable. Once again, the French made a bold move by giving the name of “Périgord” to the truffle of Quercy (the Occitan valley of Calblanque). But this “battle of the truffle” should not be overlooked. The so-called “black diamond” is grown mainly in Soria and Teruel, also in Castellón, Aragón, Navarre, Cuenca or Albacete, even in Jaén. Even in the district of Cartagena, where the “desert truffle” is produced. Let us hope that the story of Calvados is not repeated.


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