The French word for apple is “pomme” and you have possibly enjoyed one of these French pastries and desserts when you have visited France: Tarte Tatin, Tarte aux pommes, Chaussons aux pommes, or even Crêpes à la Normande. If you love apples as I do then I think you’ll love an apératif called Pommeau de Normandie. It is made with apple brandy and apple juice but it is rarely found outside of northwest France.
So, you better head to Normandy on your next trip to try some…and buy some bottles. [And if you can’t get there on your next trip, consider my “recipe” experiment below. It’s not perfect, but you’ll get an idea of what pommeau is like].
Table of contents
- 1. What Is Le Pommeau de Normandie?
- 2. Pommeau
- 3. How Do You Serve Pommeau?
- 4. When Do You Serve Pommeau?
- 5. How Long Does Pommeau Keep?
- 6. Where Can You Buy Pommeau?
- 7. Can You Make Your Own Pommeau?
1. What Is Le Pommeau de Normandie?
Before I explain what pommeau is, here is some information about apple brandy because it is the key ingredient in Pommeau de Normandie.
(a) Apple Brandy: Calvados, Lambig, Fine du Maine
Apples are plentiful in northern France and as a result, apple brandy is produced in 3 appellations: Normandy, Brittany, and Maine.
A French eau de vie (“water of life”) that has been distilled from cider becomes apple brandy. In Normandy it is called Calvados. In Brittany it is called Lambig and in Maine (an area that covers the Sarthe and Mayenne departments in the Pays de Loire) the cider brandy is called Fine du Maine.
(b) Calvados, Normandy
The beautiful bottle in the shape of an apple above contains apple brandy, “Vieux Calvados” by producer G.E. Massenez. The brandy, Calvados, first appeared in France in the 16th century and the department called “Calvados” (located in Normandy), was not created until the French Revolution. Today the area is known for butter, cheese (ie. Pont-l’Évêque), and anything related to apples such as Calvados brandy and pommeau.
Straight Calvados can be quite potent (40% alcohol content) so that’s why I prefer pommeau which is a cross between powerful apple brandy and sweet and tart apple cider.
Pommeau is not a wine. It is an alcoholic beverage made from a blend of one year-old apple brandy with apple juice (must, or pressed juice from apples). The combination is called mutage and the liquid is put into oak barrels. After at least 30 months, the result is a mistelle and in this case it is Pommeau de Normandie, Pommeau de Bretagne or Pommeau du Maine. It just depends what apple brandy was used. The longer the aging, the smoother the finish will be.
The taste is fruity with apple notes (of course) and the appearance is a clear, amber colour. The aroma can be vanilla, caramel, and spices, a mixture of dried fruits and cooked fruits like baked apple, cherries, prunes.
3. How Do You Serve Pommeau?
Pommeau is typically served chilled, at a temperature of 8-10° Celsius, and served in a tulip glass; however, I have usually had it in a wine glass. Pommeau cocktails are becoming increasingly popular. Recipes often have pommeau combined with Calvados and another fruit juice, served over ice. My preference is to have pommeau straight. No ice. No other additions because I want to really taste the apples. À chacun son goût – “to each his own”.
4. When Do You Serve Pommeau?
While there aren’t any strict rules about when to drink pommeau, it has traditionally been served as an apératif; however, it can also be served during dinner with cheese (ie. cheese from Normandy such as Camembert) or foie gras, or after dinner with dessert (ie. an apple pie, coffee cake, or chocolate dessert!).
5. How Long Does Pommeau Keep?
One of my concerns about buying a case of pommeau was that I wouldn’t be able to drink it all during its best years. You can keep unopened pommeau for 1-2 years and once it is opened, you can keep it for another 6 months.
For this reason, I bought a case of 6 bottles and split it with a friend. I was probably being overly cautious. I think I’ll go through my 3 bottles in less than a year!
6. Where Can You Buy Pommeau?
As mentioned, pommeau is produced in one of the 4 departments of France: Normandy, Brittany, Sarthe, and Mayenne. The first time I stayed near the town of Lonlay-l’Abbaye, in the Orne department of Normandy, there were many producers of le pommeau de Normandie that had tastings even though I wasn’t in one of those departments. So your chances of finding pommeau somewhere in northwestern France are probably pretty good.
When you are in Normandy, head to the cider route in the Pays d’Auge area and you’ll find many producers of Calvados and le pommeau de Normandie.
(a) Domaine Dupont
During one of my visits to France I concentrated on the Calvados area and visited the Famille Dupont Estate (in Victot-Pontfol). Dupont is a big producer of ciders, Calvados, and pommeau. I took a tour of their orchards and facility and did a tasting in their showroom.
(b) Calvados Experience by Père Magloire
If you’re interested in learning more about the area, take in the interactive, multi-sensory attraction “Calvados (Père Magloire) Experience”, located in Pont-l’Évêque. I learned all about the history and production of Calvados brandy and the tour ended with a Calvados and pommeau tasting. And yes, I bought some pommeau, not just by Père Magloire but by other producers as well.
(c) Calvados Pierre Huet
If you are outside of the northwest region of France, Calvados will be easier to find than pommeau. And it is close to impossible to find pommeau in Canada. When it is brought into the country, I have found that it sells out quickly. You might have more luck finding pommeau where you live.
While I did not visit the Pierre Huet distillery in Cambremer, I was fortunate to locate a wine/spirit merchant back in Canada and ordered a case of 6 bottles of Pierre Huet Pommeau de Normandie.
It was aged 3-4 years and has an alcohol content of 17% and it has won numerous awards. The cost was around $50 per bottle (750ml). [In France, the price of pommeau is, not surprisingly, much cheaper, $25 or more per bottle].
According to the information sheet supplied to me, this pommeau’s mutage was:
- 2/3 of cider apples from bitter and bittersweet varieties such as Binet Rouge, Fréquin Rouge and Bisquet
- 1/3 of one-year-old Calvados Pays d’Auge with 60-70% alcohol
7. Can You Make Your Own Pommeau?
This was the question I was asking myself when I thought I wouldn’t be able to buy pommeau in Canada. And yes, you can try to make your own pommeau, but only do it if you have Calvados that you aren’t drinking. It won’t be like the real thing, but kind of close.
I used the G.E. Massenez “Vieux Calvados” and this brandy tasted like nothing initially until it hit the back of my mouth. Then it was incredibly powerful. Too powerful. There was a bit of an apple aroma but I felt it was more of a strong wood/oak smell. The taste was very strong alcohol and sadly, I couldn’t taste any apple.
Some reviews have used these terms to describe it: apple notes, orange marmalade, caramel and vanilla…with a fruity finish. I will be honest and say that I simply find brandy too strong.
So I figured I might as well experiment with making a glass of pommeau. I tried two different ways and obviously did not age the pommeau in an oak barrel but I wanted to know if my concoction would even be close.
(a) Pommeau de Normandie
3 ounces of Pommeau by Pierre Huet
- dark amber in colour
- had some legs
- tasted sweet, smooth, apple, caramel, a little alcohol but not a ton
(b) Calvados + Apple Juice
1 ounce of Calvados with 2 ounces of apple juice
- light gold like apple juice
- no legs
- aroma was of apples
- tasted like apple juice with a slight alcohol finish
- it actually made the Calvados taste better
(c) Calvados + Apple Cider
1 ounce of Calvados with 2 ounces of apple cider
- looked more like apple cider
- it had no legs
- the initial aroma is like an oak barrel
- the taste was closer to pommeau but still had a strong cider finish
So, neither “mixture” looked or smelled like real pommeau, but the one with the apple cider was closer in taste than the one with apple juice. It was an interesting experiment but I would always go for pommeau if I could.
If you’re interested in visiting Normandy, be sure to check out these posts:
- Two Of The Best Ways to See The Cliffs At Etretat
- Making Sure Your First Airbnb In Normandy Is A Success
- Where to see the best Bastille Day fireworks in Normandy
- Hidden Gardens In Etretat (Jardins d’Etretat)
- Photo-worthy Stops On The ‘Route des Abbayes’ In Normandy
Have you ever tasted pommeau de Normandie or Calvados brandy? What did you think of either?
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