“So you just shot it?” “Yeah, that’s how we do it in Italy.” My introduction to limoncello, followed by an acidic burning sensation lancing down my throat, a sensation I can only imagine is not too dissimilar to gasoline. Save to say, you aren’t actually meant to shot limoncello, and a gaggle of Italians chuckling at the sight of two spluttering tourists confirmed that it was not how they do it in Italy.
Limoncello is sweet and syrupy, glowing yellow like the warm Italian lemons which lend it both its name, and its tang. Served ice cold, the subtle aromas are perfectly refreshing on a balmy summer’s night. Aromas that I found out the hard way, are followed up by a brick wall of hard liquor – commercially brewed with an alcohol content our about 24%, many Italian nonni consider themselves limoncello-producing connoisseurs, who opt for a staggeringly higher number.
Even though limonello is seen as an exotic after-dinner liqueur, it is by no means difficult to produce – I tried it, and here’s proof.
Step one is relatively easy, buy a big jar, some lemons and some alcohol. Any kind of alcohol. Okay, not quite, but almost – any non-flavoured, clear grain alcohol. I chose vodka because the alternative was gin, and gin is reminiscent of rather awful university days. If you are feeling like a bit of a big spender, opt for 100 proof; 80 proof will give you a slightly different end product but will do (that’s what I did, so I will talk about those difference later).
With a paring knife or vegetable peeler, remove the rind from one lemon for each 100ml of alcohol you are using. Things to take into consideration include, but are not limited to, the size of your jar – mine was a 500ml jar so I used 400ml of 80 proof vodka and therefore, 4 lemons.
Make sure you have included as little of the lemons’ pith as possible, dump your lemon rind into your jar and plonk the vodka on top. Screw the lid on top of the jar, place it into a dark cupboard and there, the hardest part is done.
Give the jar a swirl at least once a day to get the flavours mingling- they will be well mingled in around for days, but they longer you leave it, the deeper and more infused it will become. I waited a month, I dare you to do the same.
Once you are sick of waiting, buy a funnel and make sure you have drunk the leftover vodka so you are left with a nice, big, empty bottle. Strain the warm, golden liquid and transfer into the bottle – take a moment to truly take in its beauty. Then take a moment to make some sugar syrup. The amount of sugar syrup you will need depends solely on your tastebuds and partly on the strength of the alcohol you used. If you used 80 proof (like me), you will need to use less than if you used 100 proof, otherwise you risk making it too sweet and altering the chemical balance which can lead to you limoncello freezing solid (also, like me). Using the previous lemon algorithm, begin with 1/8 cup of sugar, and 1/8 cup of water per lemon – you can always add more, but you can’t take it away.
Heat the syrup until the sugar has dissolved and leave to cool slightly before adding to the lemony liquor. Once it has cooled, pop it in the freezer until it is ready to serve. Chances are, if you used 80 proof it might still freeze, if that happens, just keep it in the fridge and serve with an ice cube.
So, how do I think this little experiment went?