Make Your Own Limoncello!

Summer is just around the corner! That is, if you think in brewing terms. You see, this is the time to start thinking about preparing a delicious batch of Limoncello that will be ready in time for summer.

Limoncello is probably the first hard alcohol I ever tried in my life, and my grandfather is the one responsible for this acquired taste. Traditionally enjoyed after summer meals, this not-too-sweet fruit liqueur is a staple in any Italian kitchen freezer.

Debi and I prepare Limoncello twice a year:  in November, ready for Christmas gifts to friends and colleagues in December, and in April we start working on our summer batch!  Every year, twice a year, our kitchen produces about 3 gallons of this fantastic concoction.

The Limoncello recipe I use and share with you comes straight out of my Aunt Laura's recipe book, and I consider it a big part of my food heritage, as it is one of the first memories I have of me hanging at the kitchen counter with my family when I was young. My grandmother used to have many lemon trees she cared for when she was younger; she and my grandfather Renato used to spend hours together around those plants: trimming, cleaning, talking, while me and my brother Fabio ran around the garden with our bicycles.

They would pick the lemons when ripe, clean them and load wicker baskets that would end up on Aunt Laura's counter.

My mom, Aunt Laura and I would peel the lemons and place them in jars with the alcohol, and in a couple of weeks, after a Sunday family lunch, we would drain the peels and mix in the simple syrup. After a few more weeks passed, the Limoncello would be ready, and summer would begin.

There is nothing special to the preparation of this fantastic after dinner drink. Yes, the purist would say that unless you are using lemons from Sorrento, you are not making the traditional Italian Limoncello. However I can tell you that a dear friend of mine here in California has a fantastic plant that produces bright and juicy lemons, and to me they are good enough to brew a few gallons of liquid happiness. Look for the best fruit you can find (bright yellow, medium big and with somewhat a thick peel), and you are set to go.

One of the questions I often get is if it is possible to make Limoncello with Vodka: the answer is NO! Only hard core alcohol can do the trick of extracting the flavor from the lemon peel—nothing less than 80% Vol should be used in this recipe… I personally like grain alcohol. Nor can you use unrefined sugar, as the flavor will be off, and your digestif will come out a weird, uninviting matte and mud-mustard color.

March is the perfect time for testing the recipe with the ingredients you have access to, make a small batch, and try it around the beginning of May. You will see if you'd prefer it a bit sweeter, or a bit dryer. Adjust the sugar in the syrup and get back to work. Make your summer batch in May, and by mid-June your freezer will be ready to battle the heat!

Just a couple tips...

For making:  Keep your Limoncello away from direct sunlight when it's brewing. A closet or basement are good cool, dark places to let it sit without getting cooked.

For serving:  Always serve Limoncello freezer cold. If possible, keep a set of shot glasses in the freezer as well; serving in a cold glass extends its life in your hands!


Watch Gabriele and Debi Mazar cook meals from their home every Wednesday night at 10pm ET/ 9pm CT on Cooking Channel.

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