Friday, January 6, 2012


Limoncello, pronounced Lee-mon-chello, is a lemon infused liqueur of Italian origin. In Italy it is served chilled at the end of the meal. Friends of my parents made their own upon returning from Italy many years ago. They gifted my parents with an Orangina bottle of their elixir. My parents, who have never been hard liquor drinkers, enjoyed tasting it but then passed it on to me. I kept the Orangina bottle in the freezer and drizzled it over ice cream. That was my first experience with it. Then a friend of mine made some a while back and that got me to thinking about it again. A year ago I made my first batch.

Other than a weakness for a good margarita in the summertime, I'm not a hard liquor drinker myself. But I have grown to like an occasional digestivo with desert. I am fond of late harvest zinfandel port with dark chocolate or berry crisps; my spicy orange mead with ginger cookies or spice cake; and in the summertime, limoncello with lemony desserts or with chocolate-dipped or Mexican wedding cookies. 

If you have a source of good lemons and are interested in trying it, it is a super easy project to take on. The ingredients are only lemon zest, liquor, sugar, and water. A bit of patience is required as you wait for the essence of the lemon to be imparted to the liquor. Most recipes you find call for high-octane grain alcohol such as Everclear which is illegal to sell in California. I substitute vodka. I think this makes for a milder tasting final product but because of its much reduced alcohol content, (40% vs. 95%!), it doesn't draw quite as much color or flavor from the lemons. So if you are using vodka I'd say the more zest the better and the longer you can let it sit the better. 

When I was ready to try making my own limoncello I called my friend and asked what kind of vodka I should use. She told me to buy the cheap stuff because it will be completely transformed anyway. For my first batch, as I did with this most recent batch, I went mid-shelf. I am planning to start a third small batch this weekend and I think I am going to try top-shelf and see if I can taste the difference in quality in the final product.

Basic Limoncello Recipe
10 or more lemons
750 ml. vodka or more high octane grain alcohol like Everclear
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
(I doubled this for yesterday's batch)

First you need some beautiful, fresh, unsprayed, unwaxed lemons.....
Then you need to zest them, leaving the pith on the lemon. Some people use a peeler and get much larger pieces but my zester gives me more control. It took me about 45 minutes to do 21 lemons this way.
Put zest into a large glass container. Pour alcohol in. Let sit for 40 days swirling occasionally. Strain out zest. Simmer water and sugar together for a few minutes until well dissolved, let cool, and add to lemon liquor, stirring well. Let sit at least another week in original container or in bottles before drinking. You can bottle your limoncello in any size or shape of bottle with any type of seal (flip-top, screw cap, bottle cap, cork). When made with vodka the limoncello is kept in the refrigerator. If you use Everclear it would probably stay liquid in the freezer.
After zesting, I juiced all of these lovely, fragrant lemons. Some of the juice is in the fridge and some is frozen in containers for future use. Think lemonade in the summer, in hot water when you have a cold, in salad dressing, in lemon curd or bars, to brighten soup, etc.
Making citrus-cello for summer enjoyment is becoming a winter routine. This weekend I will try a 3-citrus-cello with orange, grapefruit, and lemon zest.  Small bottles of limoncello make nice little gifts and tiny chilled glasses of it are a special treat for summer company. 

I will post a link to a pleasant YouTube video I found which shows the basic process of making limoncello. There is an advertisement at the beginning which can be skipped after a few seconds if you like.
3 minute limoncello video to music