What follows is a complete fiction. Not one word of it is true. Nope. Not one word.
It’s no secret that I like calvados, it having been well documented in a previous post. Distilled from blends of apples, it is a powerful, potent, and vaporous ode to la pomme. Over the years one of our favorite pastimes was roaming the Norman countryside in search of local farms that produce the family of apple-based miracles; cidre, pommeau, and calvados. We chatted with the farmers as they invited us into their barns to sample their wares, and inevitably we left with several bottles. Each farm, each blend of apples, and so each calvados is different.
This is where Anthony came in.
It was a number of years ago, on our first visit to chez Anthony. We had arrived virtual strangers a few days before, and were very much in the getting-to-know-you stage. We were hanging out one evening, when he said, “So, do you want to see my cave?” Cave, as in wine cellar.
“Well, hell yeah,” said I. Who knows what lurks in the cave of a French guy living in a house that goes back to the 16th Century? So, off we went.
We walked outside to the back of the building, and entered an ancient stone appendage to the house. It wasn’t a cellar, in that it wasn’t underground. But it was stone, cold as a cave, and dark, and when he turned on a light I was flabbergasted.
The room was filled with bottles. Case upon case stacked on top of each other, with other bottles lying randomly about. Off to the left was passage to another chamber, it too filled with cases and loose bottles. There were hundreds of them. Old, dust covered, most with no labels.
“My God,” was all I could say. “My God, Anthony, what is this?”
“Aahhh,“ he said with a dismissive wave across the room, “I gotta get rid of this stuff. There’s too much of it, and It’s no good.”
“What is it?”
“It’s calvados. But it’s no good. I use it to start my barbecue grill.” That is what he said.
“But…but…. What? WHAT? Where did it come from? What do you mean it’s no good”
“Yeah, my grandfather made it. It’s been sitting here for, oh, I don’t know….years. And see? The corks on a lot of them are bad, so it’s no good”
“Anthony, how long has this been here?”
“I don’t know, 40, maybe 60 years.”
At this point I was trying to get my head around what he just said. Calvados. Forty, maybe 60 years old. And he is using it to start his barbecue grill?
“Anthony, let me get this straight. You’re telling me these two rooms are filled with calvados that may be 60 years old?”
“Yeah, and some cidre and some poire William, too.”
“And you’re starting your grill with this stuff?”
“Yeah. It’s no good.”
“Ahem. Anthony, calvados is a distillate. It is not like wine. If a cork lets in some air, it doesn’t ruin it. GET ME A BOTTLE.”
So he did. He picked up a dusty, no-label bottle and handed it to me. I dragged him and the bottle back into the kitchen where I had him scrounge up a coffee filter and an empty, clear glass bottle. When I tried to open the bottle with a cork screw the cork crumbled a bit, and bits of the cork dropped into the bottle.
“See, it’s no good,” said Anthony.
“And that is why we have the coffee filter,” I said as I decanted the contents into a new bottle.”
On first glance, it was beautiful to behold; a radiant golden liquid that was crystal clear. Karen and I exchanged wordless glances in anticipation as I poured each of us a glass. Even before we could bring it to our lips, we were both hit with an aroma of apples, signature of a fine calvados. When we tasted it, our eyes rolled. It was absolutely spectacular. All from fruit from Papi’s own trees.
“Oh! My! God! Anthony, this is a treasure! This may be the best calvados I have ever tasted. And your grandfather made this?”
“Yeah, we don’t know why it’s here, but it’s pretty old.”
I grabbed him by his shirt. “Listen to me, DO NOT START YOUR GRILL WITH THIS. This is fabulous stuff.”
“Oh,” says Anthony. “Ok. I don’t like calvados very much.”
“Well, that’s just fine. I’ll take all of it, “I said, only half joking.
We returned to the US with a couple of bottles, and on our next trip we brought another bottle home. Then one day he emailed us saying he would be in the US for a few days because of work, and I quickly reminded him to bring a bottle, to which he replied, “Oh no, If you want more you have to come visit.”
On our next visit, we got some really bad news. I asked about the calvados and Anthony said someone in the family had come by and taken it away. Every single bottle. And that was the end of that.
But it wasn’t.
Anthony’s grandfather, who everyone calls Papi, is 94 years old and still kicking. He has a girlfriend, still gardens and drives his car around town, and at family gatherings he is quick to raise a glass of whatever is being poured. He was a child when the Germans were here during the war, and he has apparently been making prodigious amounts of high-quality booze for forever. And apparently over the years he has stashed it in some long-forgotten places. For safe keeping? To avoid the tax man? Who knows?
One day I got a text from Anthony, with photos attached. It seems Anthony knocked down a long-ago sealed doorway in his 16th-century stone home, and on the other side was…you guessed it…another stash of Papi’s calvados, poire William and cidre. How long had it been there? Nobody knows, and Papi doesn’t even remember putting it there. It has been many, many years.
It was too good to be true! And when we opened a bottle of this calvados it was, just as before, brilliantly golden, clear, and perfect. It was, as before, maybe the best calvados Karen and I have ever tasted, maybe even better than the previous stash. That’s not to mention the poire William and cidre, which are incredible.
Were this a true story this is what some of Papi’s stash would look like. But of course, it’s not.
A few days later Anthony sent several pictures of the cases stacked up, with a message, “Do you want it?”
I replied, only half joking, “Yes. But can I keep it stored at your place?”
“So, he said, “I guess I’m not supposed to use this to start my grill?”
“No, you’re not, but,“ I added, “ keep looking for walls to knock down.”