Lemons, alcohol, water and sugar: there are no other ingredients in the typical southern Italian liqueur limoncello. Unfortunately, the exact history of the liqueur has never been traced, but it is clear that it has been drunk in various places such as Sorrento and Amalfi since 1900. Some believe that limoncello was already drunk before the dawn of the tenth century, while others maintain that the liqueur was invented by monks. What we do know for sure is that limoncello is a popular digestif these days throughout Italy and beyond.
Limoncello is no longer only produced in the south of Italy, but only if lemons from the Sorrento area are used, can the liqueur bear the 'label'Limone di Sorrento IGP' stated on the label. IGP stands for Protected Geographical Indication, which corresponds to the Dutch protected geographical indication. This is to guarantee the quality of the product.
The lemons used to make limoncello are different from the lemons you find in Dutch supermarkets. The lemons are almost three times as large and have a bumpy skin. The peel is also the most important part of the lemons, which is why the lemons are often picked by hand, including for large-scale production for well-known limoncello brands. The lemons are then peeled and only the yellow outside is used. The white layer underneath creates a bitter taste so that is not included.
A recipe for every limoncello
The yellow peels of the lemons are then placed in a glass jar or bottle with pure alcohol (95%) and put away in a cool dark place. How long to soak the peels in alcohol depends on who you ask. Every amateur limoncello maker (and in Italy there is one in almost every family) has their own recipe for this. When the alcohol turns yellow and the peels lose their yellow color, the time is almost right. Sugar water is then made by boiling water, adding sugar and stirring until the sugar has dissolved. The sugar water is then added to the alcohol with lemon peels. Then the mixture is put away again for a certain time in a cool, dark place. Again, the waiting period in each recipe is different.
You drink limoncello ice and ice cold
When the wait is finally over, the limoncello is filtered, poured into a nice bottle and put in the freezer. Limoncello is best served ice-cold and because of the high alcohol percentage, the limoncello does not freeze when it is kept in the freezer.
In the Netherlands it is difficult to make good limoncello yourself, because pure drinking alcohol is not available here. Alternatively, you can use a limoncello recipe with vodka to attempt.