I was browsing the Citrus Growers Forum the other day and came across a post about making your own Limoncello. I had always thought that Limoncello must be a closely guarded secret kept by old, weathered Italian grandfathers. Well, it turns out all you need to make truly amazing Limoncello are some good Lemons, a bottle of Vodka, and Time.
It has taken me far too long to realise how delicious, and how astoundingly easy, it is to make your own Limoncello, and with Lemons currently being in season it is perfect timing to be using them.
I first came across it in Melbourne whilst working with some incredibly funny and extremely traditional Italians at Stellini Bar. I remember someone brought in a bottle of viscous yellow liquid which was kept in the freezer and was the best, pulled out of the freezer & poured straight onto ice during those hot Melbourne summers. Limoncello is smooth and sweet with an intense lemon flavor. It can be sipped on its own, mixed into sparkling water, or shaken into cocktails. Limoncello can range from very sweet to super tart and citrusy, as the maker of the limoncello, that's something that you get to decide.
The great thing about Limoncello is how easy it is to make. Its simply infusing lemon peel/zest into vodka. No distilling or secret ingredients required. After letting the peels and vodka mingle for anywhere from a few days to a month, it's strained, mixed with sugar syrup, chilled and just like that, we have Limoncello!
Standard lemons are just fine for making limoncello, though you can also branch out into other citrus fruits like Grapefruits, Oranges, Yuzu or even the mysterious Buddha Hand-Buddhacello!
You only use the lemon zest for this project. I've found this easiest to do with a microplane thats on my grater, but you can also use a vegetable peeler. Just try to get the skin alone and as little pith as possible. With the leftover lemons, you can make a batch of Lemonade or Whiskey Sours.The alcohol prevents any mould or bacteria from growing on the zest. Once strained, the limoncello can be kept in the freezer for at least a year, and likely much longer. If your limoncello is over a year old, discard it if it tastes off or you see any mold growing in the bottle.
- Peel the lemons: Use a Microplane or Zester to remove the zest from 15 lemons. Try to remove only the outer yellow skin and as little of the pith as possible.
- Cover the peels with vodka: Transfer the lemon zest to a 1 litre bottle of Vodka and screw on the lid.
- Infuse the vodka: Let the vodka and lemon peels infuse somewhere out of the way and out of direct sunlight for about a month. The longer you let the vodka infuse, the more lemony your Limoncello. Most of the lemon flavor is extracted in those first few days, but you'll also get a stronger, bolder flavor the longer you let it sit.
- Strain the vodka: Line a strainer with a large coffee filter and set it over a big enough vessel. Strain the infused vodka through the filter. You may need to stir the vodka in the strainer if the flow stops.
- Prepare sugar syrup: Prepare a sugar syrup of 5 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar, bring the water to a boil and stir in the sugar to dissolve; allow to cool. Add desired amount to the infused vodka, taste, and add more simple syrup to taste. You can play with the ratios of water to sugar here, More water will dilute the alcohol base, making a less alcoholic, milder, and smoother-sipping liqueur. More sugar will make a sweeter Limoncello.
- Bottle the limoncello: Insert the funnel in the neck of one of the bottles and fill with Limoncello.
- Chill and store: Chill the limoncello in the fridge or freezer for at least 4 hours before drinking. Limoncello can be kept in the fridge for up to a month or the freezer for up to a year (and often much longer!)