The “Limoncello Project” began in February with the gift of some locally-grown lemons. I posted a mid-point update in March, and am now happy to report that the entire batch has been bottled and is resting comfortably under refrigeration.
This was a first attempt, and I used a fairly basic procedure: I removed the zest of more than 6 dozen fresh lemons, marinated the zest in about 10 liters of cheap (but good quality, made in Austria, potato-based from Trader Joe’s) vodka for a month, added a simple syrup consisting of water and granulated sugar to the lemon vodka, and let it rest at room temperature for another 6 weeks. Finally, today I transferred the contents of my five-gallon carboy into bottles and stored them in the refrigerator in the brewhouse.
Sometimes I have a tendency to “overdo” the size of my projects, especially the first run. When I first attempted salami, I made about four times as much as I should have, expecting it would be great (it wasn’t; almost all of it had to be thrown away). I’ve done forty or fifty pounds of guinciale at once, with success. I put in my pilot vineyard with 48 plants, expecting that (green thumb I am not) some would take off and others would die, and I might end up with half that survive and thrive (I was right).
Point is, I have a high degree of fallibility in assessing my capabilities and determining how much of a “first bite” I want to take. With the limoncello, I feel like I was aiming for the brass ring, since the first batch ended up at over five gallons, which would have been a lot of hooch to pour out if something went wrong.
Thankfully, nothing went wrong. It’s great. All of the oils and color from the peel were well extracted, there isn’t a trace of bitterness or pithy flavor (nor any off flavors or aromas), the limoncello hits you instantly on the nose with a really pungent and attractive lemony citrus aroma, it has a great smooth mouthfeel and it warms your palate with a gloss of unctuous lemon oil going down. It is the way a digestif should be.
Most importantly, and the thing I like most about my limoncello is that it is completely natural. It tastes, looks and smells like authentic lemons, and not artificial variants that have been processed to the point that it’s more like lemon Pledge that limoncello.
Commercial limoncellos can be highly processed and have added colorings. The one I am most familiar with is Caravella, which is sometimes available at Costco and normally sells for about $20 a bottle. It states that it is produced in Italy, from Sorrento, but it does not compare with my version.
I’ve enjoyed homemade versions, house recipes at high-end restaurants in the U.S. and trattorias in Italy. I’ve sampled boutique lines, both in Italy and domestically. Even without a side-by-side tasting, I am confident that my version easily stands up to what I have tried elsewhere.
This was a very simple project, much easier than brewing or curing meat. Zesting lemons makes the house smell wonderful, whereas grinding pork with lots of garlic does not. And you will experience a flush of pride when you present your homemade limoncello to your guests following a feast at your table!
[N.B.: Now I need to figure out how to get all this zest out of the narrow neck of my carboy!]