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How to Make Traditional Limoncello

Updated on March 15, 2018
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Italian Culinary Arts * Culture & History * Eclectic Recipes * Odds & Ends and How-Tos *

Limoncello Production

Limoncello Bottles
Limoncello Bottles | Source

The Legends and History of Limoncello

Limoncello is a traditional liqueur produced in Southern Italy, mainly in the Gulf of Naples and the Sorrentine Peninsula region, and most particularly, along the beautiful Amalfi Coast. Known for its bitter sweet lemony zest taste, the liqueur is a preferred digestif (consumed after meals to help aid in digestion) among Italian restaurateurs and very popular throughout Italy and the Mediterranean.

The origins of Limoncello are based on a few ancient legends. A well known tale surrounds the Greek God Zeus who snatched away an ancient recipe from the Terre Delle Sirene by way of Ulysses and his Sirens and later gifted the recipe to a mariner whom each morning, and during the winter, imbibed the alcoholic nectar to ward off the bitter cold, an old custom that remains in the fishing villages today.

Another old tale hails during the Middle Ages where Carthusian Monks cast out the wanton Sirens, banishing their indulgent ways, yet preserving the goodness of their ill-gotten reward, the zest of life called Limoncello.

The Sirens and Ulysses

William Etty   c. 1837
William Etty c. 1837 | Source

The Limoncello Legacy

Despite all the ancient legends, the liqueur actually originated around the year 1900 on the island Azzurra where a boarding house madam by the name of Maria Antonia Farace cared for her garden of lemons and oranges. Farace's nephew, opened a a local bar and its specialty was the lemon liqueur made with Nonna Maria's hand-me-down recipe. In later years, Massimo Canale, a young man who lived nearby started producing Limoncello for commercial consumption in 1988.

And the rest - as it is said - remains history.

The Amalfi Coast

Sfusato Amalfitano

Specialty Lemon of the Amalfi Coast
Specialty Lemon of the Amalfi Coast | Source

The Amalfi Lemon

Of all varieties of lemons across the world there is no other lemon that reigns supreme than the Sfusato Lemon. This variety of lemon is harvested in Italy along the Amalfi Coastline.

Extremely large with a pointed nipple, these lemons are famous for their pale yellow rind and its juicy, sweet and tart, meaty pulp inside the fruit due to the highest grade nutrients obtained from outer-lying volcanic ash embedded in soil from the long ago eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which decimated the ancient city of Pompeii.

It's no wonder these extraordinary lemons are so celebrated and treasured. One might find these lemons painted as decorative adornment on Italian ceramics and pottery, used as an additive in delicious iced granita, or the main ingredient which makes Limoncello one of the most famous and used digestifs around the world.

"When life gives you lemons, make Limoncello"

~ Kate Spade

How Limoncello is Made

Traditional Limoncello is made with the zest of Sfusato Amalfitano Lemons, a very special breed of lemons grown only on the Amalfi Coast.

The process of making Limoncello is simple.

Lemon zest or peels are soaked in alcohol until the fruit's natural oils are released. The liquid is sieved into a sugar based syrup, which creates an ouzo effect - a milky oil-in-water emulsion. The after effect leaves a stout lemon flavor minus the bitterness of pure lemon.

From the Lemon Grove to the Wedding Party

Limoncello Variations

Pistachio Nuts
Crema di Limoncello

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Gennaro Contaldo on Limoncello

Do it Yourself: Prep Lemon Zest Ahead

Peel away the zest from 10 lemons in lengthy strips. Don't forget to remove the pith ( the white spongy tissue) from each strip or else the Limoncello will end up bitter tasting. You can do this by taking each zest strip. laying pith-side up, and scrape away the tissue with a sharp-edged knife. Be careful not to scrape too hard so that you do not lose too much zest. when finished, place zest in a jar with lid and set aside to prepare for alcohol steep

Tip: Organic lemons does not have wax residue


  • 10 Lemons, Peeled Zest
  • 1 (750 ml) Bottle Vodka or Everclear, 190% Proof
  • 3 1/2 Cups Water
  • 2 1/2 Cups Sugar


  1. Pour alcohol into 2 quart jar with lid containing lemon zest peels
  2. Seal and cover in a cool, dark cabinet for at least three days. *Note: The longer the steep the better the results.
  3. After desired steep, make a simple syrup by combining sugar and water in a medium saucepan, and heat about 10 minutes until mixture boils and dissolves. Remove from burner and let sit until cooled to room temperature.
  4. Add syrup to the the lemon zest infused alcohol. Let sit overnight. Strain into an alcohol container with cork and seal. Place in refrigerator for use and serve when needed. Best use in a chilled shot glass or as an extra ingredient for missing cocktails.

One Ounce Serving of Limoncello Liqueur

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1
Calories 103
Calories from Fat0
% Daily Value *
Fat 0 g
Saturated fat 0 g
Unsaturated fat 0 g
Carbohydrates 11 g4%
Sugar 11 g
Fiber 0 g
Protein 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

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