Homemade Limoncello Recipe: How To Make the Authentic Kind Your Foodie Friends Will Love!
Ah, homemade limoncello… sweet nectar of the Gods. I remember first tasting Italian limoncello as a young girl at family dinners. And of course, when you're young and your Italian uncles give you a taste of wine or liqueur, it's usually a healthy sip given under the watchful eye of your Mom.
Sipping wine, limoncello, or any other 'cello is as much a cultural thing in an Italian household (or in my case Italian-American household) as eating Italian food, or sharing the same kitchen towel around the dinner table to wipe your mouth (sorry, I know how this sounds).
Italians linger over meals, and long after the meal as well over a plate of sweet treats and desserts, fruits, nuts, and lively conversation.
But the limoncello and other Italian liqueurs usually appear on the table right after a meal. Because you need something to digest food, right? :-)
Drinking limoncello in Italy is a bucket list item for sure. When I first went looking for an homemade limoncello recipe, I found dozens, some with added cream or sugar. But eventually I worked out my own tried and true recipe that I'm sharing with you here!
What is Limoncello?
First, in case you may be unfamiliar with it, what exactly is limoncello? Limoncello is the sweet liqueur made from the oil essence of citrus fruit skins generally grown in the Mediterranean regions of Italy.
You can also make many other variations from several kinds of citrus fruits. Arancello (from orange), limecello, pummellocello (pummelo), grapefruitcello or any other 'cello are unique and fun to experiment with once you’ve made your first batch.
Limoncello is ubiquitous in the Amalfi coast region, and particularly the island of Capri, where lemons grow to the size of grapefruits, the fruit is fresh and juicy, and the oily skins make the perfect limoncello.
Homemade limoncello is everywhere in Italy, as very few Italians buy theirs from a store. Most Italians in Campania and southern Italy make their own.
It never occurred to me that I could DIY limoncello, but after making several trips to different parts of the Amalfi Coast, I realized that everyone had their own homemade limoncello recipe and each was slightly unique. Aha!
I haven’t yet tried limecello or grapefruitcello yet, but pummellocello has a soft oh-so-subtle taste. Limoncello and arancello, however, are still my favorites — bursting with fresh citrus flavors.
Most everywhere you travel throughout Italy - especially the Amalfi Coast and Positano in southern Italy where they grow lemons the size of footballs — restaurants will serve you limoncello after a delicious meal, to continue the hospitality.
Restaurants will generally offer it to patrons gratis (for free) since it's typically made in-house. You'll hear limoncello referred to as a digestivo, something to sip and savor while your meal digests.
It's the perfect summertime drink — like sunshine in a glass — and it's super easy to make limoncello on your own! If you've visited Naples, Sorrento, Capri, or the Amalfi Coast, chances are you've already had it.
And if you are planning to visit, bookmark this authentic limoncello recipe for future reference because you're going to want to learn to make it for when you're dreaming of Italy when you get home!
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Where To Taste Limoncello in Italy
You might find limoncello in Rome, Florence, Tuscany, and possibly in Bologna and other parts of north-central Italy. But since citrus grows abundantly in the warmer climates of southern Italy (the size of grapefruit!), you’ll find homemade limoncello served everywhere throughout Campania and down into Sicily in cities like Naples, Sorrento, Positano, the Amalfi Coast, and Sicily.
Spend a few days in any of these places and I guarantee you’ll be offered a gratis tasting of limoncello after every meal!
I've made my own homemade limoncello and arancello for years, trying several recipes and tweaking here and there. But the following is my Go-To recipe which has yielded the best results to date.
(Keep in mind that the end results may vary to some degree depending on: the kind of sugar you use in the simple syrup, the kind of vodka or grain alcohol used, and the freshness of the lemons.)
Italian Limoncello Recipe: How to Make Limoncello in 3 Easy Steps
There are 3 Easy Steps to making homemade limoncello or arancello:
Infusing the alcohol
Filtering the infused alcohol
Combining the alcohol with simple syrup
What You'll Need
750 ml bottle of Alcohol — For large batches using liter bottles, be sure to adjust the ratio of simple syrup accordingly.
15 Lemons (use navel or blood oranges for arancello) — Fresh, organic, if possible. It's a lot of lemons but you'll get the best amount of infusion from this amount of lemons/oranges.
White sugar (avoid using natural sugars as they impart a caramel-y taste to the batch)
Clean bottles for bottling
The best limoncello is made with grain alcohol, but if you're like me (in the US) where it's not readily available to buy, use an inexpensive non-potato vodka, like Svedka, Smirnoff or similar. Avoid using high-end vodkas — they're a waste of money when making homemade limoncello!
NOTE: Using grain alcohol or Everclear will pack a punch in the finished product. Sweeten with a bit more simple syrup if needed, but the taste with be stronger than with regular vodka.
TIP: To make Spiced Arancello: Simply add one whole clove, one whole cardamom pod, and one whole cinnamon stick in each bottle of Arancello. That's it. Bottle, chill and enjoy!
Step 1: Infuse the Alcohol
With a potato or veggie peeler, lightly peel the skin from the lemons. Avoid digging too deep and peeling the white pith under the skin, trying only for the outer lemon skin.
Add the alcohol to lemon (or orange) skins in glass container. Cover with wrap or airtight lid, and let sit in a cool place for at least 4 weeks.
Patience, grasshopper. The longer it steeps, the better it'll taste!
What to do with all the peeled lemons when you're done? Juice them, pour the juice into ice cube trays, and freeze. Then bag up the frozen cubes and you've got fresh lemon juice for all your recipes!
Step 2: Make a Simple Syrup
For every 750 ml of alcohol, dissolve 355 ml (1.5 cups) of white sugar in 590 ml (2.5 cups) of water, heating the mixture until the sugar dissolves completely. Make enough simple syrup for the amount of alcohol you are making. Set aside and cool.
NOTE: I've seen the ratio of sugar/water vary in several recipes, but I have found this ratio works best. Again, if you're making larger batches for gifts, adjust the simple syrup recipe accordingly.
Step 3: Filter and Mix the Infusion
At the end of 4 weeks, remove the skins from the alcohol with a strainer and discard. The alcohol will be bright lemony yellow in color.
Pour alcohol through a cheesecloth lined sieve into another large glass container. Strain once or twice to remove smaller bits of lemon.
Combine the infused alcohol with the cooled simple syrup. Mixture will turn slightly cloudy.
For making arancello, add clove, cinnamon stick, and cardamom pod at this stage before corking. Cardamom pods are strong so start with one or two pods to avoid over flavoring.
Bottling Your Homemade Limoncello
Traditional limoncello bottles are tall and narrow, and these 12 oz (375 ml) glass bottles I found are perfect for bottling — 12 bottles include stoppers and heat-shrink capsules too. Wash the bottles thoroughly with hot water before bottling.
Get creative with gift tags. One year I used my photos of lemons from Italy to make tags, channeled my inner-Martha Stewart and air-dried thin slices of dried lemons and oranges as a “garnish”! It’s extra work but it was so pretty. :-)
When I made my first batch of limoncello, I made my own gift tags from card stock. I wish I’d seen them on Amazon first.
I recently found the cutest limoncello tags on Amazon — very “professional’ with a European style, and I love the lines to hand-write your own info or gift note!
OR check out these cute round Limoncello stickers that complement your own label!
Planning on giving your homemade limoncello as holiday or hostess gifts? Here are some small add-ons that will make your gift complete:
Why Should You Make Your Own Homemade Limoncello?
Making limoncello is easy, and it makes great gifts, especially for friends and family who love Italy and Italian food. By comparison, a 750ml bottle of limoncello at the liquor store costs $25 or much more.
The ease in which you can make - and drink - this yummy concoction makes it a no-brainer to start brewing right now. The holidays are right around the corner!
Limoncello Serving Tips
Traditionally, limoncello is served in small glass or ceramic cups for sipping, like these ceramic glasses made in Sorrento. Aren’t they adorable? To shake things up a bit, use your limoncello in your favorite Martini recipes, or add seltzer for a refreshing Lemon Fizz.