Limoncello is a traditional digestivo from the south of Italy, notably the Bay of Naples and Sicily.
This homemade limoncello liqueur expresses all of the fragrant citrus of the lemon without the tartness or sour bite.
The origins are not entirely known, but its earliest commercial appearance is said to have been in the early 1900’s when an innkeeper treated her guests to a homemade after-dinner delight. It is also said that an ancestor of our modern limoncello recipe was concocted in convents as early as the 1600’s.
Because of its aromatic qualities, it is also used in cooking to impart a sweet, not sour, citrus flavor.
Though it may not compare with IGP Limoncello from Sicily or Sorrento, it is not too hard to produce a worthy batch in your own kitchen. The basic limoncello recipe requires lemons, alcohol, sugar, water…and patience.
- About 20 medium lemons*
- 1.5l of pure grain alcohol -or- 100 proof vodka (we get 2 750ml bottles)
- 3.5 cups of water
- 5 cups granulated sugar
- Sealable glass jar (1 gallon or bigger)
- Coffee filters
- Water filter (such as a Brita filter)
- Microplane Zester
- Bottles for finished product
*Traditionally, Limone di Sorrento (aka Santa Teresa or Feminello lemons), are used. These are very hard to find in the US, so just go for the best you can find. The best lemons to use would have a thick, oily skin.
It is important to note that there is no decisive limoncello recipe, each region and family has their own traditional recipe and the details vary according to each.
We’ve found it nicely blends a mix of traditional techniques with some foolproof modern efficiency.
You are going to be soaking the lemon zest in alcohol, so organic lemons are preferable. Regardless, be certain to soak and scrub them in hot water to remove any chemicals, wax, or dirt that may be on the skin.
We pass the grain alcohol through a water filter several times to remove any impurities that may be present. This step may seem like overkill but trust us, it creates a much smoother final beverage.
Next you need to add the lemon zest.
We’ve found that a microplane lemon zester gives us the best results.
You want to try to avoid the white pith, which will impart an unpleasant bitterness.
Typical potato or vegetable peelers tend to produce big pithy strips; while a microplane is more precise and can avoid the pith and produce a finer zest. The idea is to extract all of the essential oils from the lemon zest, so the more surface area the better.
Dump all of your lemon zest and the 1500ml of alcohol into a sealed container, and store it in a dark cool place for 30-90 days.
You can speed up the process a little by agitating the mixture occasionally. Once it seems the alcohol has extracted all of the color from the zest it is time to prepare your simple syrup.
Boil 3.5 cups of water and 5 cups sugar for about 5 minutes, allow it to cool completely, and add the syrup to the limoncello.
You should see your clear liquid transform into a cloudy elixir before your eyes.
Some say to let this rest for several more weeks, but we’ve found that you can go ahead and filter out the lemon zest using a funnel lined with an unbleached coffee filter.
Use the ladle to transfer the limoncello through the funnel and into the bottles.
Change out the coffee filter as needed.
One pass of filtering may be all that is needed, but oftentimes we’ve filtered our limoncello a few times to achieve a super smooth final product.
Be sure to sample the fruits of your labor (for quality control of course) by placing some limoncello and a few shot glasses in the freezer to reach prime serving temperature.
Source Monte Nero