Today I’m going to share with you my nonna’s recipe to make Limoncello at home. It will make a great handmade digestif for your Italy-themed meals, but also a fabulous homemade gift for your loved ones!
Limoncello is Italy’s iconic sweet, yellow-colored liqueur bursting with an intense lemon flavor. For many of us, sipping a glass of chilled Limoncello at the end of a meal is as much a ritual as drinking moka coffee first thing in the morning. What’s more, when traveling around Italy you’ll often be offered a complimentary glass of limoncello as an after-meal digestif in many restaurants.
Nowadays Limoncello is widely available in supermarkets and local stores around the world, but let’s be honest, it’s hardly ever as good to drink as the original one. The great news is that making Limoncello is super easy and with this recipe you’ll be able to prepare some delicious lemony liqueur from the comfort of your home.
History of Limoncello
There are lots of amusing stories around the history of Limoncello, which makes it difficult to locate the exact birthplace of Italy’s most famous liqueur. Sorrento, Amalfi and Capri are the three frontrunners, boasting a local production of the iconic lemon liqueur that has been going on for generations.
The most accredited source (i.e. Federvini, the Italian federation of producers, exporters and importers of wines and spirits) locates the birthplace of Limoncello in a small inn on the island of Capri, where back in the early 20th century a local lady named Maria Antonia Farace looked after a lush citrus grove. It is said that after World War II her grandson opened a restaurant that served a delicious lemon liqueur made using one of his nonna’s old recipes. Then, in 1988, Maria Antonia’s great-grandson Massimo Canale established a small artisanal production of the yellow liqueur and registered the first official Limoncello trademark.
In all truth, Amalfi and Sorrento have equally captivating tales involving fishermen drinking Limoncello to fight the cold and monks doing shots of the yellow liqueur in between prayers. We’ll probably never know the real story, but hey, all these legends make Limoncello even more intriguing, don’t you think?!
There’s no doubt that the secret for a great Limoncello is the lemon skin used to make it. The authentic recipe uses the lemons that grow in the warm, sunny climate of southern Italy. More specifically, the Sfusato Amalfitano cultivated on the Amalfi Coast and the oval-shaped Femminello Sorrentino that grows on the island of Capri and the Sorrentine peninsula. Both are marked with the I.G.P (protected geographical indication) seal and are characterized by a thick skin rich in essential oils.
Don’t worry though, you can prepare some authentic homemade Limoncello even without living in the land of lemons. Just make sure to buy thick-skinned lemons (preferably organic).
How to make homemade Limoncello
Ok, now it’s time to make your Limoncello! You’ll find dozens of recipes online (some with vodka, others with less sugar, etc.), so just keep in mind that what I’m sharing with you is simply what my nonna taught me. I suggest to use it as a base and then have fun experimenting until you find your favorite version. For example, you can increase or diminish the amount of water depending on whether you like your Limoncello stronger or lighter.
What you need
- 7/8 thick-skinned lemons
- 1 l grain alcohol
- 1.250 l water
- 750 gr (about 4 cups) white sugar
- a glass jar and roughly 3 1-liter bottles (make sure to wash them thoroughly with hot water before using them)
- a pinch of patience and lots of love
Prepare your Limoncello in 4 simple steps
STEP 1: Wash the lemons and gently peel them with a potato peeler. Make sure to remove only the yellow part, otherwise the white pith will make the Limoncello bitter.
STEP 2: Place the peels in the jar, then pour the alcohol and stir. Put the lid on the jar and store it inside a cupboard at room temperature for about 30 days. Remember to shake the jar a bit once a day to better combine the two ingredients.
STEP 3: After a month, take a saucepan and melt the sugar in the water, then let the syrup cool down. Once it’s cold, add the lemony alcohol making sure to remove the lemon peels with a strainer.
STEP 4: Stir well, pour into the clean bottles using a funnel, and store your Limoncello in the fridge. Done!
Some people prefer to store the bottles in the freezer, but I prefer to keep it in the fridge. What I put in the freezer are the glasses, so the Limoncello is super chill!
Let me know how your homemade Limoncello turns out!
A big hug from Italy,