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If this summer includes a visit to Southern Italy – specifically the Gulf of Naples, Sorrento, Sicily or Sardinia – you’ll surely encounter marvelous lemon orchards, bursting with colorful, luscious-smelling fruit. And if you’re lucky, somebody will offer you a small glass of typical Italian liqueur, limoncello, which is made from the best-quality Italian lemons.
While its origins are uncertain, limoncello is commonly believed to have first created in the early 20th Century on the island of Capri. And the very best limoncello is still produced in the Sorrento regions and boasts a flavor, color and aroma that is truly one of a kind. Limoncello comes from marinating lemon peels in alcohol. During this phase, the lemon peel releases essential oils, which are what gives it such a distinct aroma. Since these oils have a bitter flavor, a sugar syrup is also added – imparting limoncello with its refreshing taste and pleasant bouquet. Of course, there are many variable that can influence the final outcome of this liqueur, and several well-established tricks that can help you achieve a wonderful, high-quality limoncello even at home.
First, let’s start from the harvest. The best lemons in the world come from the Sorrento region of Southern Italy, with varieties like Sfusato or Femminiello Santa Teresa. Choose lemons that have been harvested between late June and early July, whose peels contain the highest quantities of aromas, if you want to satisfy even the most refined palates. Once picked and selected, tradition then dictates that these lemons should not even be washed, in order to leave the natural aromas unaltered. If you don’t know the origin of your lemons, or if the peel is dirty, wash it under cold running water and pat them dry. Now, using a small knife or potato peeler, peel the lemons without including any of the white skin between the peel and the fruit. Slice the peels into thin strips. Place the sliced peels of 12 lemons into 700 ml of pure 95° alcohol, and close it hermetically and then store it in a dark place. The container should be quite large, as it will need to hold another liter and half of liquid.
After 40 days, boil a liter of water and slowly add a kilo of sugar and mix well until it’s well absorbed. Remove from heat and let cool, then add the sugar syrup to the alcohol and lemon peel composition, along with another 200 ml of alcohol. Seal the container again and place it once more in a cool, dark place. Wait for a minimum of 40 days, but if you can manage to keep it there for a couple of months, you’ll be well compensated for your patience.
If you follow this recipe – using high quality lemons and good alcohol – your limoncello will be on par with that served on Italy’s Amalfi Coast at the height of summer. Obviously, once ready and opened, you should keep your limoncello in the freezer and drink it out of small glasses, which you can also chill in the freezer before serving.