Originating in Southern Italy, the pungent, aromatic, yellow liqueur known as limoncello has received international acclaim for its delicious, zesty ﬂavour. It has long been a summer favourite in Italy and its popularity continues to grow all over the world.
Despite its popularity however, the true history of limoncello is subject to much debate. Some say it was invented during medieval times by ﬁshermen wanting to ward off the cold, while others believe it was developed in monasteries for monks to enjoy between prayers.
Although limoncello has been consumed by Italians for centuries, with many families passing down their own special recipes from generation to generation, it was not until 1988 that a producer of the product registered the trademark ‘Limoncello’.
Traditionally, limoncello comes from the Campania region which comprises the Amalﬁ Coast, Sorrentine Peninsula and the islands of Capri and Ischia.
These areas are famous throughout the world for their spectacular coastlines and natural beauty – and for their lemon production. The picture perfect areas are close in proximity and limoncello became widely consumed here at the beginning of the 20th century.
Lemons are one of Campania’s most important crops. There are countless lemon groves in this region, where the fruit is cultivated with love and care.
Traditionally, the lemons are harvested by hand. Several tours even allow tourists to visit some of the lemon groves and meet the producers.
During the summer months, the towns of the Amalﬁ Coast, Sorrento, Capri and Ischia are awash with lemons and locally produced limoncello which spills out from shops and into the streets and piazzas. As well as being made by different producers in the area, limoncello is also housed in bottles of various shapes and sizes. There are glass bottles and ceramic bottles, large bottles and small bottles. Some are painted with images that represent the region such as lemons, sail boats and dramatic coastlines; while others are contained in bottles shaped like Italy’s boot, various musical instruments, barrels, the sun or the moon, to name just a few. Although bottles of limoncello dominate many stores, other popular liqueurs can also be purchased in Campania. These include arancello (orange), meloncello, fragolino (strawberry) and liquirizia (liquorice), along with the cream based liqueurs crema di limone, crema di melone, crema di fragolino and crema di cioccolato.
The abundance of lemons available in Campania means they are also widely used in local cuisine – from mains that include pasta and seafood dishes through to desserts like soufflés, cakes and delicious gelato.
The lemons grown is these areas are vastly different to those sourced anywhere else in the world. They are larger than those typically found in Australian supermarkets and grocers and feature thick, strongly perfumed rind. This is ideal for producing limoncello as the rind is what gives the drink its beautiful sweet flavour and bright yellow colouring. True limoncello contains no other flavourings or colourings – therefore the end result is totally dependent on the quality and freshness of the lemons used.
Limoncello is traditionally consumed in a small glass at the conclusion of dinner or with dessert, and should be served very cold. As an alternative, it can be mixed with Champagne or Prosecco, used in cocktails or drizzled over ice-cream.
Make limoncello at home
• 1L water
• 1L vodka
• 1kg sugar
• 8 large lemons
• Begin by thoroughly washing the lemons and drying them with a paper towel or clean tea towel.
• Peel the lemons. Place the vodka in a large bottle and add the lemon zest. Close the bottle and allow the vodka to infuse for at least seven days.
• Next, put the water in a pot and bring to the boil.
Dissolve the sugar in the water. Set aside and allow to cool.
• The vodka should now be yellow in colour and smell strongly of lemon. Combine the vodka mixture with the sugar mixture and allow to infuse for approximately 30 days.
• Using a sieve, strain the limoncello to remove the zest.
Place into bottles and refrigerate. Limoncello can be stored in the freezer and will not freeze because of the alcohol content. Allow the limoncello to infuse for two weeks before serving. Serve cold.
To make arancello, simply substitute the lemons for oranges and follow the same procedure.