Limoncello is a delightfully colored and scented Italian digestif made from lemon zest and grain liquor. While digestif’s are uncommon in the United States, they have a rich history and are still popular in certain parts of Europe. a digestif is broadly a drink enjoyed after dinner, to aid in digestion. While digestifs are quite strong and bitter, limoncello is refreshingly tart and sweet.
The history of limoncello is quite contested. Sorrentini, Amalfitani and Capresi all claim it as part of long cultural traditions; however we can verifiably trace the commercialization of limoncello to Massimo Canale of Capri, who registered it under the trademark “Limoncello di Capri”.
We may never find the true history of limoncello’s creation, but what we can find is delicious ways of enjoying it ourselves. Today, it is exported and enjoyed throughout most of the world. While it is readily accessible at most liquor stores in the United States, making your own limoncello is simple, economical, and allows for customization based on personal taste.
Traditional limoncello is made with either Sorrento or Amalfi lemons. These can be challenging to find in the United States, however, so I used Meyer lemons instead. It is imperative to, when choosing lemons, spend a couple extra dollar to buy organic ones. Limoncello is made by soaking the peel of lemons in liquor, so you really don’t want it to be covered in pesticides and wax! Unfortunately, non organic citrus fruits do not just have pesticides on their surface, but actually concentrate them throughout the peel, so simply scrubbing does not remove all pesticides.
8 organic Meyer lemons
750 mL of 100 vodka (I used Smirnoff)
3.5 cups water
2.5 cups sugar
- Wash lemons.
- Zest all 8 lemons. You can do so either by using a microplane zester or using a
vegetable peeler or pairing knife. The microplane zester is the quickest way to avoid pith (which will make your limoncello bitter and should be avoided at all costs!) However, it is more difficult to strain. If using the peeler or pairing knife, allow yourself to take some pith with you the first go around, then trim it off of the zest with a knife.
- Put the lemon zest and vokda in a large glass container. Screw the lid onto the container tightly.
- Wait. Traditionally, limoncello should steep for between 40 and 80 day. We were a bit anxious to try out our concoction, however, so we increased the proportion of lemon zest and shortened the steeping time. I let mine steep for 7 days.
- After 7 days, make simple syrup using the sugar and water. Boil the sugar and water together until the sugar dissolves. I recommend adding the simple syrup incrementally so that you can determine how sweet you want your limoncello to be. I added about 3/4 of the simple syrup to mine and reserved the rest for future cocktails.
- Allow this mixture to rest for a day.
- Strain out the lemon zest using a fine strainer. If you used a microplane zester you might also want to run the limoncello through a cheese strainer to ensure that no zest remains in the liquor.
- Bottle and enjoy!
This recipe results in a moderately sweet limoncello that allows the flavor of the lemon zest to really shine through. It does, however, create a very strong drink. If you desire to lower the proof, that can be done simply by adding some water into the mixture. Limoncello will last up to a year when stored in the freezer, which also keeps it chilled and ready to serve.
You can enjoy limoncello chilled by itself or include it in a multitude of delicious cocktails. Here’re some ideas to get you started:
Limoncello Gin Cocktail
1 oz limoncello
1 oz gin
4 oz club soda
Lots of ice
Lemon peel, for garnish
Fill a tall glass with ice and add the Limoncello and gin. Top with the club soda and stir. Garnish and Enjoy.**
**Courtesy of Maureen Petrosky at The Kitchn.
1.5 oz bourbon
.75 oz limoncello
.75 oz sweet vermouth
Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.***
***Courtesy of Kindred Cocktails.