Homemade Limoncello

August 29th, 2008  |  Published in All, DIY Food Projects, Fantastic Fruits, Lemon, Most Popular, Weekend Projects  |  33 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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