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It’s been more than half a century now since the beaches of Normandy were swept clear of their German occupiers. But, as the historian Stephen Ambrose has so eloquently reminded us, America will forever be in the debt of its “citizen soldiers” of World War II. The French owed them even more: freedom from Nazism. Many a GI, sweat-soaked, bruised, and likely dripping blood, was greeted with the happy phrase, “Vive les Americains!” And many a Norman delved deep into his cellar and pulled out precious bottles not of champagne but of the fiery local brew, calvados, with which to welcome his country’s saviors. There could have been no more fitting way to toast the Liberation of France, for calvados is par excellence the drink of Normandy, that pleasant land of apple orchards and tall hedgerows. Norman cuisine is based on butter and cream, arguably the best in all of France, and its cheeses are soft and rich: double and triple creams and, most famously, Brie. Prawns and Normandy sole, moules marinieres, and demoiselle a la creme (small lobsters in cream sauce) are staples of the local diet, much of it washed down with Loire Valley whites, Muscadet and Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume and Savennieres. But because the Normans do so love a big meal, they make room midway for a glass of calvados “to aid digestion.” Such is the “trou normand,” so called because it’s said to fill the hole (“trou”) in one’s stomach. Calvados is cider brandy, based either on pear or apple fruit. That from the Pays d’Auge region is double-distilled, 100 percent apple fruit, while that of Domfrontais is single-distilled, 60-70 percent pear fruit (the rest being apple). A bottle of well-made, old calvados is one of France’s greatest digestifs, smooth and delicious. A great Pays d’Auge will taste of baked apple, honey, licorice, almond, and spice. A fine Domfrontais will show lighter notes of pear, toffee, spice, and vanilla. And, as with armagnac and cognac, the older the better. (Like armagnac, calvados sometimes comes blended and other times with a vintage date.) Back in 1944, the people of Northern France toasted our fathers. Today we toast them: Vive les Normands!

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