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Limoncello – Part I

A couple of things have happened recently that has caused me to have Limoncello on my mind.  If you haven’t heard of Limoncello it’s an Italian liqueur that is generally sipped after dinner or late into the evening.  It is intensely lemon-flavored, packs a good alcohol punch and is pretty sweet.  The most common way to sip it is ice-cold. 
The first was that a comment came in on one of my old Limoncello posts on The Spirit World and the second was while sitting at Zig Zag the other night we had a little tasting.  And then what I started thinking about was the batch I made last summer and how it was good when it was "done" but it was even better two or three months later after the flavors had really blended and become much more integrated.  And then I took a little sip out of the bottle I have left in my freezer and I thought this might be a good topic for right now! 
I know it is barely the beginning of summer, but this liqueur would make a great holiday gift and if you start it this summer those flavors will have plenty of time to get good and integrated before you get to the gift-giving season. Besides being good on it’s own, I have several friends who like to incorporate Limoncello into their Lemon Drops… 
So for the next couple weeks I am going to post the original pieces in roughly the same timeline as they occurred in real time. 
This first piece talks about what you need and how to get started.  The second post will tell you how to know if you are ready for the next step and the final post will help you put all the components together.  Then the hard part starts – the waiting until it’s really ready.  Of course you can sneak a little sip now and then just to see how it’s doing. 
The Tools
When making limoncello you only want the zest from the lemons, none of the bitter white pith. This is easiest to do if you have the proper tool – a zester. In the photo you’ll see a couple of different versions of zesters. The two shorter versions will make long, thin curls of zest. The two grater-type tools will make very small confetti-like pieces of zest. The more surface area we can expose, the better so my choice for this project was the long, narrow zester (the one that looks like a
rasp) – it’s narrow shape makes it a great tool for round objects.  
If you don’t own any of these tools you could also use a vegetable peeler or even a paring knife – just be super careful to remove only the yellow portion of the skin.  
Once the zest has been removed, juice the lemons and use the juice for lemonade, fresh lemon sweet and sour or freeze it for use at a later date.  
The Fruit
For this recipe you will need six good sized lemons. I actually used seven, just because I have a bad habit of trying to intensify flavors when I cook! But the recipe just calls for six. You’ll notice these lemons are rather dull and not that pretty. I purposely chose these lemons as they were unwaxed. If your lemons are shiny and gorgeous you’ll end up with a bunch of icky wax floating around in your limoncello. We don’t want that.  
If you can’t find unwaxed lemons, prior to zesting blanch the fruit in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Working quickly, remove them from the water and immediately dry them with a rough towel, trying to remove as much wax as possible. Then drop them in ice water to cool them back down.  
The Alcohol
You’ll need one 750ml bottle of alcohol. If possible you want 100 proof (50%). This is normally the cheaper vodka in your liquor store and is often found on the lower shelves, not right at eye-level.  
The higher proof serves two purposes: it will leach the flavor and color from the zest faster than the more common 80 proof; and when we later mix in the simple syrup we will end up with a nicer level of alcohol in the final product.  
If you can’t find 100 proof, go ahead and use 80 proof. You’ll need to let the mixture sit a bit longer – but you can manage that. When we get to adding the simple syrup, I’ll address a couple things you can try to balance out the alcohol levels. By the way, more is not necessarily better. At this point you might be thinking you should just use Everclear (at 95% alcohol) but your finished product will not be what you hope for. It will be out of balance the other way – more alcohol is not always a good thing! 
The Container
The final item you’ll need is a jar that is large enough to hold the zest and the bottle of vodka. It should have a good airtight seal. Glass is preferable, stainless steel would also work. Plastic would be okay. Do not use aluminum.  
Once you’ve combined that zest and alcohol and sealed off the bottle, place it in a cupboard or somewhere out of the way. We’ll come back and check on it in two weeks. You might want to make a little note on your calendar.  
  1. Dave permalink
    27-Jun-2007 4:54 pm

    Cool! If you find that using 100 proof alcohol is making it taste a little… like cheap vodka, it\’s generally because high proof vodka is targeted at alcoholics who don\’t care so much how it tastes. So there\’s a trick to purifying this kind of vodka to taste much better. All you do is run it through a brand new Brita filter 10+ times. Works like a charm.

  2. Culinary permalink
    28-Jun-2007 6:14 am

    Hi Dave!
    With all the lemon flavoring the flavor of the vodka is not an issue.  Now it might be if you used Everclear but even more than that the balance of lemon vs alcohol would just be out of whack.  So you could filter the vodka if you\’d like (which simulates another round of distillation) but it\’s not absolutely necessary.  100 proof, while not considered premium, is not that far out of line. 
    ~ B

  3. maureen permalink
    03-Jul-2007 10:37 am

    Limoncello always reminds me of Sorrento, Italy. I remember sipping Limoncello for the first time after a great meal. I think I will have one tonight after dinner.
    Thank you for bringing me back to that wonderful vacation.

  4. Culinary permalink
    04-Jul-2007 5:33 am

    Hi Mo!
    Isn\’t it great how a little taste or smell can bring back memories?  Glad this post was able to help with that!
    ~ B

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