Sunday, August 1, 2010

Homemade Limoncello, Day 1

Limoncello is an invention of the Amalfi coast and the islands of Capri and Ischia, where Sorrento lemons grow large and lush. The peel of the Sorrento lemon is thick and fragrant, rich in the aromatic oils that give real limoncello its vibrant colour and bright citrus flavour. Italians treat limoncello as a digestivo -- a digestif -- served ice cold in chilled ceramic cups and savoured, in long slow sips, after a meal. In North America, limoncello has quickly become a bar standard, used to impart the vividness of lemon to a mixed drink without any of the acidity and bitterness of lemon juice.

I had received a bottle of good limoncello as a birthday gift two years ago. It was amazing, its flavours full, bright, and bold. It was the perfect gift for an epicure. Since then, I have been on the lookout for a good limoncello but everything I have found so far has been pricey and disappointing. Some of the limoncello you will find on store shelves are made using artificial lemon extract. The end product looks too neon yellow and tastes too much like sweet, syrupy furniture polish.

There is no reason to settle for drinking Lemon Pledge though, not when real limoncello is so easy to make. The recipe is simple: the best, freshest lemons you can find, the best highest proof clear grain alcohol available, sugar, water, and patience.


15-16 Large fresh lemons (Sorrento or Meyer if possible)

2 750 ml bottles of Gdanski Spirytus or other high proof clear grain alcohol

2-3 cups of filtered water

2-3 cups of sugar

Day 1)

1) Wash and dry the lemons thoroughly to remove any dirt and pesticides. If possible, use organic lemons but be sure to only use ones without blemished peels or pare off any spots and the stems, ends.

2) Using a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife remove just the yellow part of the lemon’s skin. Leave too much of the white pith on and your limoncello will have an off and bitter flavour to it.

3) Place the lemon zests into a large clean glass jar, then pour over with both bottles of alcohol ensuring that the lemon peels are completely covered.

4) Set aside away from direct sunlight in a cool dark place (a closet or cupboard will do in a pinch) for at least a month. Swirl the mixture of lemon zest and alcohol once every couple of days being careful to make sure the peels remain submerged.

After only a day you can already see the Spirytus begin to take on the colour of the lemons. In a month's time a simple sugar syrup made from equal parts sugar and water will be added to the mix of alcohol and lemon. That will then be left to sit for another month's time before being bottled.

Patience is a virtue, one that is well rewarded. Allowing the lemon and liquor to infuse over such a long period of time means that every bit of vibrant lemon flavour will be extracted from the zests and imparted into your limoncello.