Limoncello, the lemon liqueur from Campania

Limoncello is a sweet, digestive liqueur that is popular all over the world.

Limoncello is a liqueur with ancient origins, homemade preparation and simple ingredients: water, alcohol, sugar and lemon peel.

The lemons must come from the Sorrento-Amalfitan coast, a wonderful area also because of its yellow citrus fruits. The poet Torquato Tasso, who was born in Sorrento, declaimed the virtues of these precious and fragrant yellow fruits as follows: “With flowers eternal is the fruit that lasts and while it sprouts one matures the other”.

History of Limoncello

On Capri they are convinced that limoncello was born here.
In the early 1900s, lemons were an important resource for the coast; they were loaded onto ships leaving Piano di Sorrento and exported, obviously in handmade packages, to England, France, Denmark, Russia, Canada and the United States.
In these areas it was common to make lemon liqueur at home and offer it to guests. At the beginning of the century on Capri, Vincenzo Canale, owner of the Mariantonia guesthouse in Anacapri, began offering his guests homemade limoncello. He immediately noticed that it was well received by all his guests, and it seems that his recipe gave rise to Limoncello di Capri (a product registered by the company founded by Canale’s grandchildren at the end of the 1980s). Since then, in the Sorrento Peninsula and along the Amalfi Coast, there are several companies producing this characteristic liqueur; limoncello, also called limuncello, limonello, limonoro, has been able to revalorise an entire area cultivated with lemons.
In reality, however, Sorrento and Amalfi also claim the paternity of the liqueur and there are numerous accounts of the production of the traditional yellow liqueur. On the coast, for example, history tells us that at the beginning of the 1900s, the great families of Sorrento never failed to give their illustrious guests a taste of limoncello. In Amalfi, some say that the recipe originated in a monastery to delight the monks between prayers.

Limoncello strength and cost

Limoncello liqueur usually has an alcohol content of 33° and costs around €12 per bottle. For one litre of limoncello, at least six kilos of organically grown lemon peels are used, which are not chemically treated on the surface.

The Lemon Routes

Today the fragrant citrus fruits, characteristic of the coast, are the protagonists of a food and wine tourism project called “Le Vie dei Limoni”.

The project, promoted by the Consorzio Limoni di Sorrento Igp, includes visits to ten or so agricultural estates, some of which are very famous, such as the historic Gesù and Villanella estates in Massa Lubrense and the panoramic Grottelle estate in Meta di Sorrento. Then, entering the limoncello production factories, it will be possible to discover the various phases of transformation that the lemon undergoes until the liqueur is made.

Limoncello recipe

The preparation of Limoncello is simple, just follow the recipe carefully.

Ingredients of Limoncello

Lemons: 10 medium-sized, red, untreated lemons
Water: 1 ½ litres of water
Sugar: 1,2 kg of sugar
Alcohol: 1 litre of pure alcohol at 95°.

Preparing Limoncello

– Wash the 10 lemons thoroughly in warm water.
– Peel the lemons with a potato peeler. Be careful not to include the white part of the peel: it is bitter and would spoil the flavour.
– Place the peels on a chopping board and cut them into small strips.
– Pour 750 ml of 95° pure alcohol into a glass container (jug or vase, both are fine).
– Place the lemon strips inside the glass container so that they can macerate.
– Close the glass container tightly and store in a dark, cool place for a month.
– After the month has elapsed, bring 1 ½ litres of water to the boil.
– Pour 1.2 kg of sugar into the boiling water.
– Stir until the sugar dissolves and a syrup is obtained.
– Leave the syrup to cool for about fifteen minutes.
– Pour the cooled syrup into the container with the infused lemon peels.
– Pour the remaining 250 ml of alcohol into the container with the infused peels.
– Close the container and store in a dark, cool place for another 40 days.
– After 40 days, open the container and pour the contents into a bottle, making sure it is filtered.

How to taste limoncello

It is advisable to place the bottle of liqueur in the freezer to enhance its characteristics and fragrance before tasting.

Limoncello storage methods

We recommend storing the bottle of limoncello in a cool, dry place, such as the refrigerator. Better still, store it in the freezer and consume it within three months of bottling. Once the bottle has been opened, its contents should be consumed within a maximum of 3-4 weeks.

Tips for making an excellent limoncello

It is essential to get the original lemons from the Amalfi or Sorrento coasts, which have a very aromatic skin. It is also necessary to get a good quality type of alcohol because, otherwise, there is a risk of turning the liqueur into ice, once it is stored in the freezer.

Types of lemon

Thanks to the excellent climate of the coast, lemons find the ideal environment to offer a unique flavour. There are different types of lemons: on Capri and in the Sorrento Peninsula there is the Sorrentine Oval, grown in the flat areas. On the Amalfi Coast we find the sfusato di Amalfi, particularly rich in aromatic substances, protected by the Slowfood Presidium; it is a moon lemon, unique in Italy. This particular lemon is grown on medium-sized terraces on the slopes of mountains, overlooking the sea, or in narrow valleys or gorges.

How lemons are grown

The traditional lemons of the Amalfi coast are grown on chestnut pole scaffolding 3 metres high. The stem of the lemon tree is carefully protected from the action of the weather, preserving the correct and perfect ripening of its fruit.

How the lemons are picked

The harvesting of Amalfi Coast lemons is done strictly by hand; the lemons must not touch the ground, but must be picked strictly from the branch. The harvest is usually carried out in the period from February to October.