When life gives you lemons, you can certainly make lemonade (and I will) but first, limoncello…
Limoncello is just about the simplest liqueur to make at home, and it’s an annual favorite for my Italian family for obvious reasons. Good news, though. You don’t have to be Italian to enjoy it, or even to make it. The process is so simple, in fact, that I’m going to get right into it rather than regale you with whimsical tales of Italian traditions. You’re welcome. Let’s make limoncello!
6-7lbs (16-18 qty) organic lemons
750mL vodka (80- to 100-proof)
Glass container with a tight fitting lid (1L or larger)
Large bowl (to collect lemons)
Selecting lemons: Any variety of lemons will make you a perfectly wonderful limoncello. If you have access to Meyer lemons, which are typically in season November through March in the northern hemisphere, take full advantage. Their slightly sweet flavor and smooth peel make them ideal for homemade limoncello. Whatever variety you use, though, know this: you want to use organic lemons for this recipe. Without getting deep into the science, it’s important to understand that whatever is in the lemon peel is going to end up in your liqueur, and that includes pesticides. Even if you’re not concerned about the health risks, I can assure you that your limoncello will taste best if you start with organic lemons.
Selecting alcohol: While many at-home infused liqueurs or medicinal extracts call for liquor over 100-proof, that’s not a wise move for limoncello. Although lemons have a rep for being bold and sour, lemon oil is actually quite delicate with a lot of subtle flavor variations. Using liquor with a higher alcohol content can easily overpower the flavors you specifically want to retain. For that reason, you’ll want to reach for vodka between 80- and 100-proof for best results.
Selecting tools: Some food bloggers advocate using a vegetable peeler to make limoncello, but I would strongly advise against it. For limoncello, a microplane grater is the ideal tool. First and foremost, a microplane grater allows you to remove the lemon peel without even the risk of grabbing any white pith. As you likely know, the pith of a lemon is quite bitter, and you don’t want to infuse your liqueur with that flavor! Second, microplane grating shreds the lemon peel into tiny pieces, creating more surface area and exposing more of the lemon’s precious oils to your infusing spirits – which is precisely your goal. Some recipes suggest that a vegetable peeler will save time, but microplane grating 16 lemons took me about 20 minutes and if you can’t devote that kind of time to making a higher quality limoncello then I don’t know what else to tell you except perhaps to reconsider what you’re doing with your life.
Once you have acquired your lemons and vodka, the rest is cake. As they say.
Step 1: Relieve the lemons of their skin.
Step 2: Place lemon zest in a glass container and cover with vodka.
Step 3: Place a tight lid on the container and store in a cool, dark place for 30 days.
That’s it for Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2 when things get sticky…