Homemade Limoncello

August 29th, 2008  |  Published in All, DIY Food Projects, Fantastic Fruits, Lemon, Most Popular, Weekend Projects  |  31 Comments

Homemade Limoncello

Homemade Limoncello
makes about 2.5 liters

Stage 1: Infusing
Zest of 15 medium-sized organic lemons, cut into long strips using a vegetable peeler or knife
1 liter grain alcohol (Everclear, etc.)
1 liter vodka (low end stuff is ok here — save the Grey Goose for your martinis)

Combine lemon peels and alcohol in a large glass jar (choose a jar that has at least twice the capacity as the amount of alcohol plus lemon rinds — a 1.5 – 2 gallon jar should work just fine).  Close with a tight fitting lid or plastic wrap.  Allow to sit for 6 weeks in a cool, dark place.  Shake jar once a week or so.

Stage 2:  Sweetening, Day ~42
4 c. sugar
6 c. water

Combine sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 3-4 minutes.  Add to alcohol mixture, and stir to combine.  Close with a tight fitting lid or plastic wrap.  Replace jar in a cool dark place, and allow to sit for another 6 weeks.  Shake jar once a week or so.

Stage 3: Filtering, Day ~84
Filtering is done in three stages.  In the first stage, strain the mixture through a coarse sieve to remove the lemon peels.

For the second stage, place a coffee filter in a fine mesh sieve.  In increments, pour limoncello through the coffee filter.  If filtration slows down, replace coffee filter with a new one (note: if you wet coffee filter before using, there will be less lossage of limoncello).

For the third and final filtration stage, repeat phase two, filtering limoncello through another coffee filter.  This ensures you will have crystal clear limoncello that will last indefinitely.

Ladle into clean jars, seal, and store in the freezer or refrigerator, or alternatively in a cool dark place until ready to use.  Enjoy!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I was walking back from lunch the other day with my coworker Fritz, and he (very) jokingly proclaimed, ‘If it’s not instant, it’s not gratification!”.  Well, as true as that rings much of the time, this recipe is about the polar opposite of that sentiment :) .  Now with that all out of the way, if you have the patience to wait 12 weeks (which actually passes in a flash), you can make homemade, amazing delicious limoncello!

limoncello jar outside
Limoncello before filtering

Limoncello before filtering
Zest close-up

The first time I tasted limoncello I was at Trattoria Il Panino, one of my favorite restaurants in Boston’s North End.   While in college, I used to frequent the place.  Even before I was a ‘foodie’, I knew this place was good — perhaps it was the carpaccio, perhaps it was the homemade lobster ravioli with cream sauce, perhaps it was the always amazing prosciutto and melon appetizer, but most likely it was the …. homemade limoncello… that set this place apart!  They proprietors got to know me there, and whenever I would come in, they’d offer a round of limoncello apertifs after the meal, which was always supremely delicious (hospitality can’t be discounted here either!).  Later when I travelled through Italy, I sampled many local varieties of limoncello (it seems that every grandmother there makes her own), and really, most every one of them was something to write home about — oh those italians and their delicious food!!  It definitely left an impression on me.

So, back in May when another coworker of mine offered me a 15-lb bag of homegrown lemons, I readily accepted.  I first made lemon marmalade, then replenished my supply of salt-cured citrus, and still, I had 20+ lemons leftover.  What to do?  An alcohol infusion reminiscent of the Italian countryside, of course!

This recipe is highly adaptable, and you can tweak it to your taste.  Don’t like sweet drinks?  cut out a little sugar (note:  I already cut out about 30% of the sugar from all the other recipes I’ve seen);  Want to pucker your lips because of the lemon-y-ness?  double the lemons!  Want to add an herb or spice?  vanilla? chocolate? mint?  Do it!  Why not?!  In the end, this is just an alcohol infusion, and you can tweak it however you want.

But more than anything, I hope this simple recipe demonstrates that it is completely possible to make many (most) of the things that you’d typically buy processed from a large company!  Why spend $30 on a bottle of limoncello with preservatives and un-pronounceable ingredients when you can follow the lead of Italian grandmothers who have been doing this for hundred of years?  I certainly choose the latter.

Bottles of homemade limoncello
~2.5 liters of limoncello

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  1. Lemoncello Lover says:

    August 29th, 2008at 7:12 pm(#)

    wow! that’s one sweet aperitif! very tasty!

  2. Maggie says:

    August 29th, 2008at 8:28 pm(#)

    I love your ideas for variations. I think I’d like lemoncello a lot more if it were not as sweet and the idea of infusing an herb as well sounds delicious.

  3. chefectomy says:

    August 29th, 2008at 9:32 pm(#)

    Jen – very cool post. Recommendations on how to serve?


  4. Tiffany says:

    August 30th, 2008at 5:02 am(#)

    Wow- I am impressed! This looks awesome. As for instant gratification, I am probably more on your end of the spectrum- gratification after a long wait for something.
    I love your blog, Jen, and look forward to reading much much more!

  5. elra says:

    August 30th, 2008at 12:04 pm(#)

    I wouldn’t mind to have a bottle of homemade Lemoncello!

  6. maybelles mom (feeding maybelle) says:

    August 31st, 2008at 4:06 pm(#)

    Cool. I am bookmarking this for this winter. would be great at christmas.

  7. Ben | LimoncelloQuest says:

    September 1st, 2008at 6:00 am(#)

    How did that batch in the pictures turn out?

  8. Saltpepperlime says:

    September 1st, 2008at 8:32 am(#)

    That looks fantastic! Brava!

  9. brian says:

    September 1st, 2008at 5:50 pm(#)

    If my music teacher ever stops giving me homemade meyer lemon lemoncello I will be coming back to this great post. I use limoncello in sorbets and even some ice creams.

  10. Erin says:

    September 3rd, 2008at 9:43 am(#)

    I love limoncello and I prefer homemade variety, but I don’t know if I could do the Everclear. . . whoa.

  11. Jen says:

    September 3rd, 2008at 6:08 pm(#)

    Lemoncello lover — lucky you actually got to try it! :)

    Maggie — next time I might do an orange version with a vanilla bean… or perhaps rosemary?

    Chefectomy — if you want to drink it straight, I recommend storing it in the freezer and serving it icy cold. I’ve also heard of people drizzling it over vanilla ice cream or sponge cake

    Tiffany — thanks! patience is really all this recipe takes. And re: gratification, with recipes like this, it comes in many phases from making it all the way to trying it — I love it!

    Elra — perhaps we can do a little culinary trade?? you make such delicious looking breads — want to do a trade of bread for limoncello??

    Maybelle’s Mom — definitely would be good at Xmas — perhaps a spiced version would be even better!

    Ben — The batch in the picture turned out great. My boyfriend absolutely loved it, but it was a little on the sweet side for my taste — next time I think I’ll do even less sugar

    SaltPepperLime — thanks!

    brian — your music teacher sounds awesome. All my piano teacher ever gave me was a slap on the hand for playing the wrong notes!

    Erin — you know, the everclear really wasn’t that much higher proof than the vodka surprisingly. I don’t think I’d ever drink it straight, but here it’s got all the simple syrup added so it’s not as potent

  12. finnyknits says:

    September 4th, 2008at 2:59 pm(#)


    I made some back in the day and it’s still sitting in my freezer with the stuff I brought back from Italy. It’s delicious, but I’m thinking of rebottling into smaller bottles to give as gifts. We are apparently not yet drunkards enough to handle it on a regular-ish basis.

  13. Chef John says:

    September 4th, 2008at 4:29 pm(#)

    I’m not a huge fan of lemoncello, but that’s a great photo!

  14. Martha says:

    October 1st, 2008at 1:22 pm(#)

    Hi Jen–

    Thanks for your post! Where do you get your bottles for keeping the limoncello?

    Thank you!

  15. Jen says:

    October 1st, 2008at 2:56 pm(#)

    Hi Martha — I got the bottles at Cost Plus World Market. I think they were about $5/each, and they had quite a few different styles to choose from

  16. Gail Guimond says:

    December 26th, 2008at 7:54 pm(#)

    I followed the recipe and made the limoncello as directed. It was absolutely wonderful. My daughter who just returned from a trip to Italy said it was the best she ever had including what she had in Italy. I gave a bottle to a friend who has been making her own for quite a few years and she is going to use your recipe from now on. I thank you for publishing the recipe and hope to enjoy it for years to come.

  17. Jen says:

    December 27th, 2008at 9:16 am(#)

    Gail — I am so glad you liked the recipe! And thanks for leaving a comment here — it’s great to hear from people who try my recipes!

  18. Sarah MUM says:

    April 18th, 2009at 6:45 pm(#)

    Hi. This made me remember a recipe given to me by a sweet Italian lady selling homemade lemoncello in southern Italy.. I will dig up the recipe and will share it here… the lemoncello in the photos looked very good! The next time I go to an organic farm, i’ll get lemons and make these… Thanks for posting the recipe…

  19. Jen says:

    April 19th, 2009at 12:32 am(#)

    Sarah MUM – please do share the recipe!! I’d love to hear it

  20. Homemade Tempeh | Modern Beet says:

    June 9th, 2009at 12:24 pm(#)

    [...] As many of you know, I have a thing for making things from scratch — tofu, jam, pickles, limoncello, gravlax, sauerkraut, and sausage to name a few.  Tempeh had been on my to-make list since seeing [...]

  21. Glenn says:

    July 20th, 2009at 3:04 pm(#)

    Do you think adding mint would be a nice addition?

  22. Jen says:

    July 21st, 2009at 12:05 am(#)

    Glenn — I think lemon and mint go well together, so I’d say it’s worth a try. Make sure the fresh mint is totally submerged in the alcohol, otherwise it might rot. If you end up making it, I’d love to hear about the results!

  23. Jamie C says:

    April 27th, 2010at 2:08 pm(#)

    Can’t wait to try this! We fell in love with this treat in Italy last year, and will be so nice to sip on a hot summer afternoon. I think I might use a little mint-that sounds like a really nice touch. Maybe the orange mint I just planted….

  24. Jen says:

    April 27th, 2010at 2:14 pm(#)

    Jamie – Thanks for commenting! Orange mint sounds delicious. I have never heard of it, only the more common varieties like chocolate mint, peppermint, spearmint, etc.
    Speaking of orange flavors, I’m actually thinking of making a blood orange version of this soon as a friend with a tree brought me an enormous bag of oranges a few days ago… I’ll definitely post the results here on Modern Beet.

  25. Heidi says:

    May 12th, 2010at 5:22 am(#)

    Thank you so much!
    I am German and married into a Italian-American Family from the Boston Area.
    Needless to say that I can’t keep up with the In-laws Italian cooking…
    For a family gathering I made a few German dishes and this Limoncello recipe infused with some Apple Mint.
    For the first time I have been invited to join all the ladies in the kitchen!!!!
    I guess I had to earn my spot in there, and this stuff did it for me <3

  26. Jen says:

    May 12th, 2010at 7:24 am(#)

    Heidi- it sounds like you earned yourself a spot in the kitchen! :) I’m curious about your German dishes… I lived in Hannover all of last year and learned a few things about German food. I think my favorite food I found was wirsing. It’s surprisingly difficult to find here in SF. Oh yes, and of couse all the delicious kuchen!

  27. Make meyer lemon hooch, peruse some bathroom porn and other updates on recent posts (don’t say we never taught you anything) « Priss & Vinegar says:

    February 11th, 2011at 6:53 pm(#)

    [...] making limoncello the good old-fashioned Italian way by taking the full 80-days to brew it as this recipe does. Cin [...]

  28. Alain says:

    April 26th, 2011at 5:49 pm(#)

    Fantastic. Thank you for sharing!

    I received a similar recipe from a friend in Italy and have not made it because I simply have not been able to find unwaxed lemons. Even organic lemons have wax on them, unfortunately. Are you lucky to have found unwaxed lemons or are you able to wash away the wax? Or did you not care and it still turned out okay?

  29. Fifty is the New Fifty - Throw Your Best Summer Cocktail Party Yet says:

    July 5th, 2011at 6:05 pm(#)

    [...] this summer is a few blackberries muddled with a few leaves of fresh mint, then topped with some homemade limoncello and sparkling water. There is an easy way to do a large batch of this drink too. Just toss the [...]

  30. jenn says:

    April 11th, 2012at 11:50 am(#)

    The easiest way to get organic lemons, is to find someone with a tree. My parents have an insane lemon tree, it produces nearly year round. I just brought home 40lbs last week. It makes me sad that I only get up there once a year. So find someone with a tree, chances are they have lemons coming out their ears. Ring the bell, ask nicely, offer to share some of what you want to make and be respectful.

    People have been dropping by to pick lemons of my parents’ tree for years now.

  31. Fifty is the New Fifty | Throw Your Best Summer Cocktail Party Yet says:

    June 3rd, 2013at 7:19 pm(#)

    [...] this summer is a few blackberries muddled with a few leaves of fresh mint, then topped with some homemade limoncello and sparkling water. There is an easy way to do a large batch of this drink too. Just toss the [...]

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