If you love the taste of lemons, then you’re going to love this delicious homemade Italian limoncello recipe.
This fairly traditional recipe is easy to follow and only requires a few key ingredients. With just a little bit of effort, you’ll be able to make your own homemade Italian limoncello.
You can fill decorative bottles with this lemon-infused alcohol and enjoy this refreshingly tart liqueur later or gift it to friends!
Homemade Italian limoncello makes a wonderful gift for those hard-to-shop-for adults on your list. And it’s also a lovely hostess gift.
Follow this recipe to make your own homemade version and you’ll be sipping an Amalfi Coast treat in short order!
What is Limoncello?
Italian limoncello is a traditional liqueur originating in southern Italy that is made from the zest of lemons infused with unflavored alcohol and then sweetened. It usually has an opaque appearance due to the droplets of essential oils suspended in the drink.
It is a wonderfully refreshing lemon liqueur and tart treat that is perfect for sipping on hot summer days. Or enjoy it in the winter for a citrus pick-me-up by the fire.
Italians also enjoy it after dinner as it has an ouzo effect on your digestion after a big meal. So, it is considered a ‘digestive’. And a delicious one at that!
Origins of the Italian Limoncello Recipe
The history of limoncello really only dates back to the 19th century.
However, limoncello’s origins are shrouded in mystery and there are many theories. For instance, several cities on the Amalfi Coast claim the ancestry and boast of their authentic Italian limoncello recipes. Can they all be right?
According to Florence Inferno, folks in Capri, an island just off the tip of the Amalfi Coast, say the origins of limoncello are linked to the Canale family.
Florence Inferno states, “The liquor originates from the beginning of the 1900s, in a small boarding house on the island of Azzurra, where the lady Maria Antonia Farace took care of a rigorous garden of lemons and oranges.”
The story is that during the post-war period, her nephew opened a bar and the specialty of that bar was lemon liquor made with an old family recipe. That nephew, Massimo Canale, first registered the trademark “Limoncello” in 1988.
However, Sorrento has a long history of growing its famous lemons and has its own legends and stories regarding how this traditional yellow liquor came to be.
So, who knows? Regardless it is delicious however it came into commercial production.
The Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast is a beautiful region in southern Italy. It is known for its stunning coastal views, delicious food, famous lemons, and tasty wines.
Sorrento is the epicenter of lemon growing and is located in the province of Salerno and is surrounded by the Gulf of Naples and the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The Amalfi Coast is a popular tourist destination, and it’s easy to see why. The views are simply breathtaking, and there are plenty of restaurants and vineyards to explore. The food on the Amalfi Coast is some of the best in Italy, and you can’t go wrong with a glass of limoncello from this region.
If you’re looking for a relaxing vacation in a beautiful setting, then be sure to visit the Amalfi Coast!
Ingredients in Traditional Limoncello
The traditional recipe for Italian limoncello calls for just a few simple ingredients. In order to make this delicious liqueur, you’ll need lemons, sugar, water, and vodka.
Lemons are Key for this Italian Limoncello Recipe
Fresh lemons are the star of the show here, and they give limoncello its tart and refreshing flavor. As well as its beautiful color!
The lemons used in limoncello are typically a type called Sorrento lemons. These lemons are round and have thin lemon skins compared to the regular citrus fruit. They are also very juicy and have an intense tart lemon flavor. They are challenging to resource in the United States.
Additionally, Meyer lemons can be used. Meyer lemons are a type of lemon that is grown in the United States, mainly in Texas, Florida, and California, and are widely available in grocery stores. They are a hybrid of a lemon and a mandarin orange which makes for a delicious sweet and tart flavor. Meyer lemons are perfect for making limoncello, and they add a delicious fruity citrus flavor to the drink.
However, if you can’t find Sorrento or Meyer lemons, you can use any fresh lemons you like. You don’t even have to buy organic as non-organic lemons are fine. Just be sure to clean them with a vegetable wash before using.
A word of caution. Please do not use prepared lemon juice as a shortcut. You want the taste of fresh lemon juice in your liqueur, not the chemical taste often found in lemon juice on the grocery shelf.
Standard lemons, and a little patience, are much better than juice from a plastic container on the shelf.
Sweeten Your Lemon Infused Alcohol
Sugar is used to sweeten the drink, and the water helps to dilute it. Just use plain white sugar which is probably in your pantry. You don’t need any fancy finishing sugars for this recipe.
What Alcohol do you Use?
Vodka is added to help preserve the limoncello and give it a kick.
You’ll need to head to your local liquor store and look for pure grain alcohol. You want 100 proof grain alcohol if you can find it. And using 100-proof vodka is the best way to make limoncello.
The high-level pure alcohol will extract more lemon flavor from the zest or peels than a lower-proof alcohol and it makes a smoother limoncello that isn’t cloying on the palate.
Don’t worry about the high alcohol content. It won’t be as high after you add the sugar and water.
However, if you cannot find 100 proof vodka you can use a lower-proof alcohol like 80-proof vodka. It is typically easier to find and is less expensive than the higher-proof versions.
Additionally, with the lower-proof alcohol, you should consider reducing the amount of sugar you add after you infuse the zest and vodka.
But after all, this ultimately is about your personal taste.
Equipment to Make Homemade Limoncello
In order to make the best limoncello, you’ll need a few simple pieces of equipment.
First, you’ll need a large saucepan or pot big enough to cook the sugar and water together. It should also have a thick bottom so that it doesn’t scorch the sugar.
Also, a vegetable peeler, microplane zester, or small sharp knife is required to remove the peel from the lemon. If you have a zesting trick up your sleeve, let me know!
Additionally, you’ll need a two-quart pitcher or another large glass container in which to store the zest and alcohol during the infusion process. I use an old sun tea jar.
Further, to strain the liquid, you’ll need a fine mesh sieve, cheesecloth, or even a paper coffee filter to separate the zest from the infused vodka.
And finally, you’ll need glass bottles or a large glass container in which to store the limoncello.
How to Make this Italian Limoncello Recipe
Using a vegetable peeler or small knife, remove the peel from the lemons into very thin long strips. Try to get just the lemon peel and not the white pith or white part under the peel. If you do get much pith, trim it away. Use the leftover lemons in another recipe or freeze the juice for future use.
Place the lemon peels and all of the vodka in a Vitamix or blender and process until the lemon rinds are finely ground like lemon zest. This should take about 25 – 30 seconds.
Pour the mixture into a two-quart jar or pitcher and cover it with a lid or plastic wrap. Store in a cool dark place at room temperature for one week. Give the jar a shake every couple of days to mix up the zest.
Strain the limoncello through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth into a clean bowl. Press on the solids to remove as much liquid as possible. Discard the zest. Transfer the liquid to a clean pitcher.
To make the simple syrup, add 3 ½ cups of water and 2 ¼ cups of sugar to a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir the often until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool the sugar syrup completely.
Add sugar water to lemon-infused vodka and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Or transfer limoncello to bottles; seal and refrigerate until cold. Four hours to overnight.
Keep in the refrigerator or freezer for a year or more.
How do You Store this Limoncello Homemade Recipe
The good news is limoncello typically lasts longer than other alcoholic beverages due to the alcohol content and lemons which are natural preservatives.
You can store limoncello in the fridge for up to a year (or more depending on what you read). You can also freeze homemade limoncello for one to two years.
The rules for storing homemade Italian limoncello are pretty standard. Keep it in a sealed container in a cool dark place, preferably in your refrigerator or freezer.
However, the amount of time limoncello will keep is all over the map. Some claim it will keep for only 3 months if stored in a cool, dark place. Others say it is good for a couple of years. It all depends on how you store it yourself.
My personal experience is limoncello stays drinkable for a year or two. I use glass bottles with a good seal and keep them in the refrigerator for short-term use or the freezer if I am holding on to them longer.
However, if it starts to look really cloudy or it has an off smell, that means it has gone bad and you should not drink it. Also, look for mold on the cap or top of the bottle. Not a sign of drinkable limoncello.
Make it Your Own
After making your first batch you may want to adjust the recipe to suit your tastes. If you want a stronger tart lemon flavor don’t use as much sugar.
If you want a thicker consistency then use less water. The high-alcohol vodka you use will keep the consistency pretty thin.
However, if you want a thicker consistency, you can also use a lower-alcohol-content vodka. I don’t recommend using vodka below 80-proof.
How to Serve Limoncello
Homemade limoncello is a delicious and refreshing drink! You will enjoy it from your very first sip on its own or mix it in cocktails.
Here are a few delicious ways to dish up limoncello:
- Serve limoncello chilled in small shot glasses as an aperitif or digestive.
- Add limoncello to sparkling water or soda for a refreshing drink. Garnish with a twist of lemon.
- Mix limoncello with vodka, gin, or sparkling wine for a delicious cocktail or as an after-dinner drink.
- A limoncello martini is elegant and delightful at any cocktail party. Garnish with a lemon peel or a few frozen cranberries.
- Pour limoncello over vanilla ice cream as a dessert.
- Mix with fresh berries to top angel food cake slices for a light dessert after brunch. Add a dollop of whipped cream and a mint leaf for garnish.
Great for Gifts
Honestly, I give most of my homemade Italian limoncello away as gifts during the holidays. I pour it into decorative bottles and add a little recipe card with instructions for a Limoncello Martini recipe on it. I also include storage instructions on the back of the tag.
Most people appreciate a homemade gift during the holidays. Adults especially appreciate one that doesn’t mean more baked goods sitting on their kitchen counter.
Make this Italian Limoncello Recipe
Making this homemade traditional Italian limoncello recipe is easy and rewarding. You’ll be proud of the delicious traditional limoncello you’ll create from simple ingredients in your own kitchen.
Limoncello can range from very sweet to super tart loaded with intense lemon flavor. Since you are the maker of the limoncello, make this your own limoncello recipe. Make it tarter and less sweet or sweeter and more mellow – you decide!
Either way, enjoy it with family and friends, or give it as a gift for a special occasion!
With this recipe, you can enjoy the flavors of the Amalfi Coast anytime and anywhere. Buon appetite!
Enjoy your homemade limoncello!
P.S. Let me know how it goes when you try this recipe! Post your pics with your favorite social media and please comment below!
Italian Limoncello Recipe
- 1 large saucepan
- 1 fine mesh sieve
- vegetable peeler
- 10 lemons
- 1 750-ml bottle 100-proof vodka
- 3 ½ cups water
- 2 ¼ cups sugar
- Using a vegetable peeler or small knife, remove the peel from the lemons in very thin strips. Try to get just the lemon peel and not the white pith. If you do get pith, trim it away.
- Place the lemon peels and all of the vodka in a Vitamix or blender and process until the peel is finely ground. About 25 – 30 seconds.
- Pour the mixture into a two-quart jar or pitcher and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Store in a cool, dark place about room temperature for one week. Give the jar a shake every couple of days to mix up the zest.
- Strain the limoncello through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth into a clean bowl. Press on the solids to remove as much liquid as possible. Discard the zest. Transfer to a clean pitcher.
- Add water and sugar to a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir often until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool completely.
- Add sugar water to lemon infused vodka and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Or transfer limoncello to bottles; seal and refrigerate until cold. Four hours to overnight.
- Between Naps on the Porch, Metamorphosis Monday #723