It was love at first sip. Last year my friend Steven gave me a taste of limoncello, an Italian liqueur traditionally served chilled. I dreamt about limoncello for weeks afterwards, even though I don’t usually drink hard liquor, much less fantasize about it.
Fast forward to another gathering, months later. My friends Rachel and Jay served me Jay’s home-made version, and again I was in heaven. With Jay's permission to print the recipe and his guidance on supplies, I set to work on my own batch.
Limoncello requires patience and attention to detail, but the process is simple and does not require special skill. If you are into immediate gratification and find scraping carrots tedious, don’t bother with this recipe. But if you can peel 10 lemons and remember to do a daily task that takes 30 seconds, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible treat at about ½ the cost of the least expensive commercially available versions.
This post includes Jay's recipe (modified in format and annotated) along with equipment and cost information. The second step occurs 40 days from now, so expect a follow-up post toward the end of August. The limoncello will be finished 40 days after that, at the end of September, which means a taste test and maybe a party to celebrate in October.
Jay's Famous Limoncello
Yield – approx 10-10 oz bottles Cost - $25 (see note below) total/$2.50 per 10-oz bottle
- 10 organic lemons (The peels are a primary ingredient in this recipe and you don’t want to use lemons that have been sprayed with long lasting pesticides. Jay has delicious Meyer lemons growing on a tree in his backyard - that lucky duck, so he mixed a few of them in with the organics from the store. I have to go with all store-bought.)
- 2 liters of vodka (Any vodka 80 proof or higher works. See note on cost below.)
- 3 cups sugar
- 4 cups water
- Cutting board
- Vegetable/fruit peeler
- Small sharp knife
- 1-gallon glass container (or 2 half-gallon containers)
- Metal mesh strainer
- 2 coffee filters and filter holder (either 2 paper or 1 gold/metal coffee filter and 1 paper filter)
- 2-liter container that can hold the filtered vodka (the coffee pot pictured above)
- 10-11 small bottles (I bought these at Sur La Table, on sale of course.)
- Ladle - optional (not pictured)
- Wash and dry the lemons.
- Peel the top layer of brightly colored yellow skin or zest off of the 10 lemons. Try to peel with a light touch, removing as little pith (the white layer below the colored skin) as possible. Gently scrape any of the pith that does come off with the knife, leaving thin strips of zest, which will go into the limoncello. The length of the peels does not matter, but longer pieces are easier to handle than small ones. (Laura’s note – when I was a small child, my grandfather used to peel fruit in one long strip. I loved watching him, so I tried to do it and got reasonably close. Of course, after the first success, I was not able to repeat the trick and peeled the next 9 lemons with much less artistic flair.)
- Mix lemon zest/peels and the vodka in a large glass container with a tight fitting lid. (Laura’s note – both Jay and I used a single gallon container with a screw top. It worked well, but 2 half-gallon containers would also work.)
- Store the mixture for 40 days in a cool dark place shaking daily during the storage period.
- After those 40 days (the first storage), strain the peels out of the mixture and filter it. How much filtering you do is a personal preference. Jay triple filtered for a very clear yellow finished product. 1st - metal mesh strainer, 2nd- gold/metal coffee filter, 3rd - paper coffee filter. (Laura’s note: I don’t have a gold/metal coffee filter, so I may use paper for both the second and the third filtering steps. Natural brown paper filters are preferred. I think I have some but couldn't find them for this picture.)
- Wash and dry the container(s).
- Prepare the “simple syrup” by putting the 3 cups of sugar and 4 cups of water into a saucepan. Bring them just to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer for a few minutes until the sugar completely dissolves. Then, take the simple syrup of the stove and cool it to room temperature.
- Mix the cooled simple syrup and the strained lemon vodka by pouring them back into the cleaned and dry glass container(s).
- Store the container(s) with the simple syrup and strained lemon vodka for an additional 40 days in a cool dark place, shaking daily during this storage period too.
- At the end of the second 40-day storage period, the limoncello is ready and can be bottled. Either pour it into a clean container with a spout (like my large coffee pot) or use a ladle to pour it through the funnel into the individual small bottles. My bottles are 8.8 ounces each, so I should be able to fill 11 of them with a bit leftover for a nice toast to home-made adventures!
Cost – Jay used Tito’s vodka, a highly rated, relatively expensive brand. I consulted a couple of knowledgable souls on whether it was worth the extra cost to use Tito’s when the flavor is basically that of the lemon peels. The majority suggested that it was not, so I bought the house brand sold by my local liquor store, Paul’s Wine & Spirits, and saved approximately $10 over the cost of Tito’s.
For the filtering and simple syrup steps, check out my subsequent post, Limoncello - Round 2.
For the final steps and to see the limoncello bottled, check out Limoncello - Round 3 a/k/a It's Done.