The Magazine about Sorrento Peninsula
Categories Food

Limoncello, the sun in a glass

It was 2007. Imagine two Hollywood stars dining on the Como lake. On one side of the table, there was the landlord George Clooney; on the other, Danny De Vito tasting a glass of limoncello: the Italian-American actor was so struck by the flavour that he decided to launch his own liquor brand.
HISTORY – An icon of taste for which three cities are competing
It has been a symbol of taste and tradition of the Campania Region for centuries, apart from being the most appreciated and imitated liquor in the world. The first sign of limoncello’s worldwide success is the dispute over its paternity, for which the Sorrento Peninsula, the Amalfi Coast and Capri are contending. On the blue island, indeed, Maria Antonia Farace used to grow a citrus grove at the beginning of the XX century.
Later on, her grandson opened a restaurant near Axel Munthe’s villa. The restaurant’s specialty was the very lemon liquor produced in accordance with grandmother’s recipe. Only in 1988, however, the son, Massimo Canale, opened a limoncello factory and registered the trademark. In Amalfi, instead, the story goes that the drink, with its unmistakable taste, was already popular in the XVI century, when fishermen and peasants sipped it to protect themselves from cold mornings. Another version is that limoncello derives from a recipe that was created in a monastery where monks loved to treat themselves to a drink between their moments of prayer.
As time passed, limoncello became an icon of Sorrento. Here, at the beginning of the XX century, families used to serve it to distinguished guests. Over the years, artisan productions have flourished, contributing to turn that liquor into the king of aperitifs and after-dinner beverages in the Sorrento peninsula and all around the world. Including the United States, where the drink is produced from California lemons.

8 PGI Sorrento lemons
1 litre of 95-degree alcohol (33 fl oz)
1 litre of water (33 fl oz)
700 grams of sugar (25 oz)

The choice of raw material is fundamental. Indeed, limoncello is exclusively produced with lemons grown in the gardens of the Sorrento peninsula and Capri. Once selected, the fruits must be washed in warm water, then brushed to eliminate impurities, and finally peeled so that only the highly perfumed zest is used. Then, alcohol and lemon zest have to be poured into a jug that shall sit for a month in a dark and dry place. After that period, alcohol acquires the typical yellow colour, and the second phase of the preparation can begin. At that stage, water and sugar have just to be poured into a little pot and put over the heat of a stove, but without reaching the boiling point. After cooling, the sugar syrup has to be poured into the jug, adding 300 cl (100 fl oz) more of alcohol. After other 40 days sitting in a dark and dry place, the infusion must be filtered to eliminate the zest, then it  can be bottled and served ice-cold after meals. In that case, limoncello is a perfect digestif. On the other hand, there are those who prefer to have it mixed with champagne or tonic, or poured on fruit salads or lemon ice cream. In all cases, it is advisable to use top quality alcohol to prevent the liquor from turning into ice once it is put into the freezer.

Sorrento Style #4