For an Italian, drinking a tiny glass of ice-cold limoncello after lunch or dinner is as much a ritual as having morning coffee for most of us. Clear as a tear and bright as liquid sunshine, it explodes in the mouth with the freshness of a thousand lemons and gives incredible pleasure. And once again proves that everything brilliant is simple. Don’t believe it? Then read our article and try limoncello.
What is limoncello?
According to the Dictionary of Piedmont, Italian, Latin and French, limoncello is diminutive of “lemon” – “lemon”. This is the affectionate and a little condescending way the people of southern Italy call a sweet alcoholic beverage made from sugar syrup and the purest grain alcohol infused with lemon peel. The strength of the liqueur ranges from 20 to 37%.
The secret of the classic limoncello is a special sort of lemons which grow on a narrow strip of coast between Vico-Ekuense and Massa-Lubrense in the province of Campania, as well as on the islands of Sicily and Capri. Their thick, bright yellow rind has an increased concentration of essential oils. It is these that give the tincture such an amazing aroma and pleasant tartness.
History of the liqueur
The right to be called the birthplace of limoncello is claimed by three regions – Sorrento, Amalfi and Capri. As usual, each of them has its own legend of the drink’s origin and special recipes, which are passed on from generation to generation.
Who actually first began to infuse grappa with lemon peels – fishermen to protect against the morning cold, monks to brighten the time between prayers, farmers, having a shot at the end of the working day – it is not known for certain. It probably doesn’t matter.
The official history of limoncello dates back to Maria Antonia Farace, the owner of a small guesthouse on the island of Capri. In 1900, she began to sell her own aromatic drink in her nephew’s bar. Visitors liked it so much that soon guests began to come especially to try a shot of lemon liqueur.
88 years later Massimo Canale, grandson of the enterprising Donna Maria, continued the family business and registered the Limoncello brand.
On the way to making the perfect limoncello
Limoncello has only four ingredients – lemon peel, the purest 95%-97% grain alcohol, purified soft water and white sugar. The technology of preparation is not very complicated either. The main thing in this drink is the quality and proportions of raw materials.
The perfect Sorrento oval
To obtain a classic Limoncello di Sorrento IGP we use, as we’ve already mentioned, only one sort of lemon, the thick-skinned, bubbly, rich yellow femminello St. Teresa. It is grown in the mild climate of the Amalfi Coast in the south of the Sorrento Peninsula without any chemicals, sheltered from the weather under the canopy of chestnut trees. They are harvested from February to October, by hand only, to avoid contact with the ground.
Once picked, the lemons are washed thoroughly, dried and peeled with a sharp knife. This is done very carefully so as not to cut off pieces of the white layer, otherwise the liquor will be bitter.
The perfect technology
Step by step, the process of preparing the liqueur looks as follows.
- The citron is placed in a container, pour the alcohol and send it to a dark place with a cool temperature for about a month. For better maceration dishes with tincture from time to time turn and shake.
- When the drink turns amber and lemon peels become white, remove the zest, and add the pre-cooked and cooled sugar syrup. And leave it to rest for another month.
- At the end of the period, the liquor is filtered again. In industrial production, they add an emulsifier for a homogeneous consistency and preservatives. The liqueur is then bottled.
It is said that there are as many families in Italy as there are recipes for limoncello. The classic proportions look something like this:
- for the tincture – for 1 liter of alcohol, 300 g of zest;
- for the syrup – for 1.2 liters of water, 600-800 grams of sugar.
When you combine the above volume of tincture with syrup, you get about 2.5 liters of lemon liquor, strength of 35-36%.
It is logical to assume that other places in Italy, except in the south, also make lemon liqueur. Indeed, a very similar drink, limoncino, is made in the north of the country. But it differs not only in its name, but also in the alcohol base. Limoncino is infused with pure grape spirit or grappa, which adds rich fruit tones to the citrus mix.
A true limoncello is a drink with a sunny, bright yellow color and an aroma so intense that it is sometimes compared to “liquid lemon”.
The first sensation of the liqueur in your mouth is an incredible crisp freshness that literally attacks your receptors. Gradually it spreads with warmth and only then it envelops your palate with sweetness, leaving a long and very pleasant aftertaste.
How limoncello is drunk in Italy
Limoncello is a great digestif to end a meal or an evening meal. It is an excellent way to stimulate digestion.
Before serving, the liqueur bottle is kept in the freezer for at least an hour, just like the small tall glasses, so that they become slightly frosty.
Drink the liquor in small sips, not hurrying, but also not stretching a shot for the whole evening, as the drink should remain cold. If necessary, the dishes are changed. Italians do not snack on lemon liquor, but if you want to put something in your mouth, fresh berries, fruit, a piece of bitter chocolate will do.
Do you prefer room-temperature drinks? Limoncello can be served as part of cocktails, for example, with citrus juice, tonic, light sparkling wine.